Sophia Chai: Sight Lines

Opening Reception | January 24, 2020 | 6pm

Artist Talk – uncovering studio practice | February 15 | 3pm

In our image craving world based around the photography centric social media woven into our daily lives, Sophia Chai’s art pauses to consider photography’s inner workings of light and space. By doing so she questions the normalized perception produced by the camera and therefore all normalized and calcified modes of perception.

Chai’s process is performative and reliant on the parameters of the space in which she produces her art, her studio. Painting directly onto the walls and floors of the space, the corners turn into folds, large shapes expand and retract, all depending on where she positions her camera. Taking photos of the painted space, multiple photographs of the exact same painted walls turn into entirely new compositions of color and shape. The viewer might feel tricked by their own eyes, question what it is that they are really seeing, questioning the space and the sense of what they know or take for granted. The intention is to look closely at the issues of perception: how we see, know, and how we come to believe.

“I must admit to also finding the work visually engrossing, satisfying, and I don’t mind being lost in this world that is being offered. Held by colors and forms in what may seem like a utopic modernist vision, but then gives way to the mark of the hand and the implication of the body, I, as viewer, am both seduced and off balance – a beautiful combination of feelings for the most important job of art. The understanding the world afresh, a momentary slip or tear in our reality to allow another possibility in.”
– Sheilah Wilson Restack, Associate Professor, Chair of Studio Art, Denison University, Ohio

While the initial experience for the viewer may be the illusory effect of the photographs, Chai is more interested in letting the viewer see the process with which how the photographs are made. In conjunction with Chai’s exhibition, a camera obscura has been constructed to illustrate the interior workings of a camera. By covering the walls, windows and floor of a separate room with white paper, except for one lens, allows for the shadows and light to play across a wall like they do inside a camera. As viewers sit within the darkened space, the lens casts light and shadow from outside downtown busy streets. By giving the viewer the privileged view from within the camera, they can occupy its interior space and see how the camera and its photographic production act as cultural construct.

– Sheila Dickinson, Curator and Artistic Director, Rochester Art Center

From the Artist:

Sight Lines will be comprised of 7 new large photographs, all from 2019 and other elements, presented within an installation that echoes my studio practice with which the photographs are made. All the photographs in the exhibition were made during my studio residency at Threshold Arts at Castle Community, right here in Rochester. In my studio space, there was an infrastructural shaft in the far right corner of the room next to the window facing north. I became interested in seeing how the multiple flat planes of the shaft would conjoin to form a three-dimensional corner and how the sunlight coming through the window would reflect off the different facades and create different shades. While I knew each plane to be a white wall, indistinguishable from the others, each plane took on a different presence upon seeing each plane in relationship to the others. While looking at this corner, I began making drawings in my notebook. It occurred to me that the interplay of the physical logic of the light and space as I know and the internal logic of the drawing on a flat piece of paper was akin to the way that we see a 3-dimensional space on a 2-dimensional viewing plane of the camera. Using these drawings as a starting composition, I painted directly on the walls. The photographs in the exhibitions are the records of those wall compositions. And the painted elements on the gallery walls are made in direct response to the architectural details in the exhibition space.

As a teenager I immigrated to the US from South Korea with my family and having to negotiate different languages and cultural barriers at that adolescent age has been a significant experience in shaping my identity. The feelings of contradiction, confusion, and ambivalence that my work can incite can be seen as a metaphor for that unsettling experience. I have always made my work out of a need to communicate what is not possible in words. What compels me to photography is the interplay, or push and pull, between what one can control vs. the incidental.

While the initial experience for the viewer of my work may be the illusory effect of the photograph, I am more interested in letting the viewer seeing the process with which how the photographs are made. Moreover, the photographs are enlarged to a size that approximates the actual scale, thus allowing all the marks of the hand to be visible and palpable.

With the most recent body of work, my attention to the often overlooked and muted details in the corner of a room has gained another layer of meaning as I approach these details as a self portrait of a sort. And the activity of looking, the primary subject matter in this exhibition, has opened up a way for me: an affirmation of life and being in this world.

About the Artist:

Sophia Chai is a Korean-American photographer based in Rochester, MN. Chai received her M.F.A. in photography from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her B.A. in chemistry from the University of Chicago. Before relocating to Rochester in 2017 from Brooklyn, NY, Chai has shown her work at various venues in New York City, including Trestle Projects, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Knockdown Center, A.I.R. Gallery, and TSA Gallery amongst others. Her last solo show was at 106 Green Gallery in Brooklyn, New York in 2016. Chai is a 2019 recipient of the SEMAC (Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council) grant for advancing artists and a 2019/20 MCAD-Jerome Foundation Fellow for Early Career Artists.

Click here to visit the artist’s website.

TEMP/reviews Sophia Chai: Sight Lines at Rochester Art Center by Ryan Fontaine

This activity is made possible through a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council in cooperation with a private foundation.

The ROOTED program at RAC is open to artists living and working in the eleven counties surrounding Rochester and showcases the most innovative and talented artists from the region. For artists who have received artist grants from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC), RAC provides gallery space to showcase the art by the grantee. RAC curatorial staff provides grant application support, studio visits and exhibition space, but do not select the artists, who are chosen by SEMAC jury. ROOTED exemplifies the commitment of RAC to be a central hub for art made in Southeastern Minnesota.