Art@Site Jo Sook Jin Wishing Bells To Protect and To Serve

Jo Sook Jin


Wishing Bells To Protect and To Serve

Parker Center
When the wind blows, the soft sound of ringing bells fills the air in downtown Los Angeles, casting a sense of calm over the din of the city. Words such as integrity, dignity, openness, peace, forgiveness, reverence, responsibility and honor send out messages of hope as the bells chime.
Jo said the 108 bells are representative of Buddhist philosophy. When I visited Japan, I went to see an old building, where I saw and heard several small bells ringing, Jo said. It made a deep impression on me.
The nine columns represent the board of five police commissioners and the four star insignia of the chief of police.
When the New Year starts at midnight, the bells in Buddhist temples throughout Japan are rung 108 times to announce the passing of the old year and the coming of the new, Jo said. Each toll of the bell dispels one desire that may be a cause of suffering.
The effect, she says, is meant to be the same for the prisoners held in the detention center.
She gives Metro Detention Center spiritual resonance by installing what is in effect a monumental Zen garden. She softens its image without diminishing its sense of purpose to protect and to serve, which is the motto of the LAPD, American art critic Donald Kuspit wrote in a 2004 essay about her work. As time went by, she found that wood was not only cheap but also very useful, and began experimenting with it in her paintings and sculptures.
Like most of Jo s works, Wishing Bells is notable for its use of wood. In fact, the nine columns are made of 500- to 800-year-old cedars.
Jo says that for her, wood represents life.
She began incorporating pieces of wood into her work when she was studying art at Hongik University, though finance played a larger role than philosophy at that point.
Twenty years later, she works primarily in wood, using it to make drawings, collages, sculptures, site-specific installations and performance pieces.
I didn't have enough money to buy canvases so I painted on sheets of plywood, Jo said. I could buy 10 sheets of plywood for the same price as one canvas.
Most of the wood is found, collected from the river or the streets of her New York neighborhood.
There are no two branches that look alike, which I think is amazing, Jo said. The way each one stretches out is different from another.
The surface of the plaza is designed in a pattern suggestive of waves and is reminiscent of a Japanese Zen garden.
The work consists of a metal grid supported by four 3.9-meter (13-foot) cedar columns, which are themselves surrounded by five more cedar columns. Suspended from the grid are the 108 bells, all of different weights and thicknesses, which allows them to produce different tones.
Wishing Bells is situated on the open plaza in front of the detention center. People can walk among the columns and listen to the gentle sound of the bells when the wind blows. Hanging from the bells are small pieces of metal engraved with text contributed by members of the community, including the LAPD and Little Tokyo.
Text: Limb Jae-un.
As one of Korea’s most interesting artists, Sook Jin Jo has fashioned a career that offers people many different kinds of art: sculpture, drawing, performance, installation, and public works.
Intent on working at the interstices of categories, where sculptures subtly merge with installations, or drawings document performances, Jo has shown us it is still possible to find creative niches that feel both traditional and contemporary. Jo’s sculptures, perhaps the most prominent of her media, depend upon found materials usually wood or furniture taken from the streets early in the day, before being picked up by refuse collectors.
Her dependence on the random appearance of appropriate materials gives her art a magical feeling; it is as if the lives of those who lived previously with the wood had somehow become present in the resonance of the objects found by the artist. Jo, whose art is characterized by presence and absence at the same time, employs used materials because their scarred surfaces suggest life before their use as art. But it Is also true that she is suggesting a world beyond that which we inhabit a world that inevitably reminds us of our own death. By combining presence and absence, Jo clearly seeks the expression not of religious dogma so much as the spiritual awareness of the life events responsible for such doctrines.
We can see Jo’s determination in a public work completed in 2009, entitled, 'Wishing Bells: To Protect and To Serve', done in an outside site in Los Angeles, next to the newly built detention center for the Los Angeles police.
Here, Jo, who despite her Korean background has been careful to address her audience in non-Asian terms, uses a Buddhist approach to her project. For the outdoor installation, cedar columns were introduced as supports for a metal matrix from which 108 bronze bells are hung; the number of bells corresponds to the number of desires recognized in Buddhist thought. Hanging from each bell’s clapper is a positive tag, marked with words such as 'Kindness' and meant to offer hope to those who pass through the installation.
For Jo, the point of the project has been to extend solace in situations where it is badly needed. The native decency of Jo’s sensibility may be read as part of her creativity in general, in which a sense of conviction is mirrored by an original intention. In fact, Jo is uncommon in that her intentions become as important as her expressiveness. But then this is part of her general directness of purpose.
The creation of the new detention center was highly controversial from the start, with people saying that it encroaches upon nearby Little Tokyo, which has long been a cultural and religious center for Japanese-Americans. The area is home to the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist temple and the Japanese American National Museum and was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1995.
The addition of Jo s installation, however, has restored balance to the community.
After getting her master of fine arts from Hongik University, Jo had her first solo exhibition at the Kwan Hoon Gallery in 1985.
She later moved to New York and received another M.F.A. from the Pratt Institute in 1991.
Her breakthrough came in 1990 with her first solo exhibition in the U.S. at OK Harris Works of Art in New York City. Later that year, she appeared in Art Today, a documentary featuring 13 prominent artists including Jenny Holzer, Ilya Kavakov, Cindy Sherman and Cy Twombly.
Jo has been a featured artist in various publications, including Art in America, ARTnews, Sculpture, The New York Times and Art Today. In 2004, she participated in the Lodz Biennale, Poland, and the Gwangju Biennale.