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Making a home for art


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POSTED: Sunday, March 29, 2009

Math teachers will love John Koga after reading this. The sculptor and chief preparator at the Contemporary Museum (that means he installs artwork for exhibits) finds he uses more than just his artistic sensibilities in his work.

“;You know how we say, 'I'm never gonna use this math again'? Well ...”; he says with a chuckle.

Koga's latest gallery feat involved installing the more than 75 diverse works for “;20 Going on 21,”; the museum's latest exhibit, celebrating its 20th birthday. In particular, Koga tackled mounting a 20-foot photographic print on a curved wall that he had to build.

The piece, “;Just Being,”; by Maui artist Andrew Binkley, is an archival inkjet print comprising more than 1,000 photographs of a Buddhist monk and nun in four meditation poses.

“;I hadn't met this artist before—we only spoke on the phone—and I didn't have the piece,”; Koga says. “;This challenge involved a lot of problem solving by a team of three people. I had conversations in my own head and with others. I worked on it for a week and a half.”;

Koga utilized his sculpture background to figure out how to create the curved wall, starting with a drawing and then building a small model. He then employed his math experience, crafting a giant compass to devise the perfect curve with a midpoint an equal distance from each corner.

“;In order to install the photograph on the wall, I'd have to roll it out and get it precise. But gravity would work against me. So ultimately, I'd have to lay the wall on the ground to get gravity working on my side,”; he says, recalling his thought process.

Koga finally arrived at the solution of using a skateboard ramp and plywood to make the wall. The ramp was lightweight enough to move around, and the plywood, pliable enough to maneuver into a curve.

The result: success.

“;John did an amazing job,”; Binkley says. “;The idea seems so simple, but it turned out to be so complex. I'm very pleased.”;

Binkley, a former monk who lived in China, moved to Maui last year. His work repeats four images of a monk and nun in sitting, standing, walking and reclining meditation poses. It features the images more than a thousand times, with the shots gradually lightening until they fade away and then darkening until they reappear again.

“;They disappear and appear, signifying impermanence and letting go, which is the practice of meditation,”; Binkley says.

The installation “;is really nice because it embraces the space. It's soft and welcoming.”;

Koga has been installing art for some 17 years. His experience is especially beneficial to artists who have little experience showing their work.

“;All of a sudden, it's not your studio—it's a large space with different lighting. And the art changes dramatically,”; he says empathetically. “;The space is basically my home. I understand it, so I can come up with options for them.”;

Koga says problem solving is part of the creative process of his work.

“;Oftentimes I'm presented with something and my reaction is, 'Huh? You want WHAT?' I love that—when it's almost something impossible. That's a huge part of why I love this work.”;