Interview: Christine Ko

Christine Ko / Model Home / 2017 / Mixed media installation / Motorised vertical blinds with mirror tint film and backlit film, two-channel video projections, framed photograph / Dimensions variable

Christine Ko works with installation and photomedia to explore marginality and spaces characterised by the ‘in-between’. Her practice uses an autoethnographic methodology to interrogate spaces of duality and liminality; exploring feelings of ambivalence—between hopes, dreams, invisibility and fear, which can result from experiencing cultural displacement as an immigrant.

Interviewed by Sarah Thomson

Sarah Thomson: Your work is informed by your own personal experiences. Could you give us a bit of background as to how you came to be living in Brisbane and making art?

Christine Ko: I migrated to Brisbane from Taiwan with my family when I was a young child. It's kind of a typical immigrant story... parents decided to migrate to provide better opportunities for their children which meant the aim was always for upward social mobility. Art was seen as nothing more than a childhood hobby and I always viewed it as a pursuit that was only available to the privileged, not something that I was allowed to partake in. It was only in the last few years that I began to accept that art was something I had to pursue and allowed myself to do so. I also recognised how my experience as a Chinese-Australian immigrant has shaped my views on the world and hence my artmaking.

ST: You completed a Bachelor of Photography at QCA in 2011, however much of your work takes an expanded approach to art making, specifically the use of kinetic sculptural installation. What triggered your foray into using space and installation in your practice?

CK: I had always had an interest in the urban/built environment and the relationship people have with the spaces around them so my photographic work had always been very spatial in nature. A large part of my methodology at the time was just me wandering around spaces and reflecting on my thoughts and I realised that I was more interested in sharing the experience of being in the space with the viewer. So I started to become frustrated with the lack of immersion and experientiality of straight photography and the limitations of the frame and from there I developed a keen interest in installation with the aim of providing viewers with an immersive experience.

ST: It seems that your interest in light and shadow in your photographic work has permeated your sculptural installation work. How do you think your photographic practice informs or overlaps with your work in other mediums?

CK: Oh the way I have learnt to see light through photography has definitely been carried over into my work with other mediums and has really become just an instinctive way of looking at the world. In my installation practice I am always thinking about how I can control mood and atmosphere with artificial lighting and colour, the creation of shadows and reflections and the effects changing ambient light can have on an artwork.

ST: You described your interest in mirror tint film in one of your posts, specifically its ability to convey liminality and it’s potential for layering and responding to light. How did you first come across mirror tint film?

CK: Some of my early ideas for possible installations involved the use of mirrors and I think I had a vague memory in my mind of playing with a one-way mirror at some point in my childhood. Then I realised you could by one-way mirror film for your windows from the hardware store and upon further research found out it came in different levels of translucency and reflectance so that opened up a lot of possibilities for me, seeing the potential for multiplicity through layering and reflections.

ST: In your works Retreat, Dream House and Model Home you create spaces that encourage visitors to become enclosed in somewhat cozy spaces. You mention that ‘cubbyhouses’ seem to be a recurring feature of your installation practice. What interests you about having audiences step inside your work?

CK: I think in a way I am trying to reconnect with my childhood self and making work that I think would have engaged me as a child. I remember visiting the major art galleries when I was little and feeling very disconnected from the works on display, probably because I had no connection to and no understanding of Western art history. And I always had an urge to touch the works, like the textures of oil paintings (which I did do on a number of occasions..!) and that lack of engagement with the physical senses and the distance between the viewer and the artwork as a precious object always frustrated me. So I guess those frustrations are something I try to address and attempt to overcome in my installations.

ST: Your kinetic installation Model Home brings a mechanical, moving element into your practice. How did you develop the mechanics behind the work?

CK: I basically had this idea that I needed to have the blinds constantly turning in 'Model Home' but as I know very little about mechanics and technology, and honestly had no interest in mastering either, I knew I had to work with someone else to make that come to life. I had met Paul Bardini at QCA who is a bit of a tech wizard and heavily interested in the maker movement who, lucky for me, found my project interesting enough to help problem-solve and make the motors to power the blinds. Prior to that project I had been working in isolation so that was a real revelation for me seeing the fresh ideas and ways of problem solving that working collaboratively with Paul brought to the table.

ST: You are a member of Verge Collective, a group of six female photo and new media artists working in and around Brisbane. The group was established as a way of supporting and learning from each other. How have you found it being part of the group?

CK: As I mentioned before, I had always worked in isolation and had never considered myself much of a 'people person', and was perhaps also a bit embarrassed about my perceived lack of artistic ability, so had always shied away from working with others and sharing my ideas. But after going through some dark self-critical periods and the positive experience working with Paul, I realised the importance and value of surrounding myself with an artistic community and having people to bounce ideas off. The great thing about Verge Collective is that we all come from different walks of life and each individual brings different strengths and skills into the collective. A lot of us are at that really insecure emerging stage of our practices so having this safe environment where we have been able to openly talk through not only our ideas, but also our fears and insecurities, means we have grown and become more confident by supporting and learning from each other and it has been a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know and learn from such a great bunch of women artists.

ST: Can you tell us a bit more about your exhibition at Verge Gallery in Sydney? How did your collaboration with artist Stella Chen play out?

CK: I was so stoked to get my first exhibition in Sydney this year (and a solo one to boot!) at Verge Gallery where I showed Model Home. Exhibiting artists are encouraged to have a public program during the exhibition period and a friend suggested I invite a performance artist to respond to my work in the gallery space. I had met Stella in passing during a gallery visit in Sydney earlier in the year but managed to track her down online where I found out she was also Taiwanese so straight away I became curious about what her migrant story was. After we connected we realised we had a lot more similarities than we first thought, namely our working class backgrounds and the late development of our artistic practices, plus she had already seen my work last year when It was showing as part of ‘The Churchie’ finalists exhibition in Brisbane! Working with Stella and seeing the way she enthusiastically embraced the artist identity despite any perceived setbacks really rubbed off on me and also helped to open up my eyes and learn to appreciate other art forms such as performance art. It made me realise how disconnected I was to my body and the lack of physical expression that is involved in my process and also just me as a person. So a bit to reflect on about myself and how I may incorporate more of a performative element to my practice.

Christine Ko took over our Instagram account @inresidence_ari 18-24 June 2018. See more of her work at and @kerrissteen.