obituary: emil goh, 1966-2009

Emil Goh

Emil Goh

Emil Goh


Born in Malaysia, Emil graduated from the University of Newcastle and went on to study Photography and Sculpture at Sydney College of the Arts and in the late 90s earned his Master of Fine Arts at Goldsmith College, University of London. For many years, he moved between the big cities of Asia, Australia and Europe. We ran into him last year in Sydney’s Chinatown at an opening at Gallery 4A (Asian Australian Artists Association) of which he was a founding member.

After London, Emil spent time in Hong Kong and in 2003 was awarded an Asialink residency to Seoul, a city he came to love and where he eventually settled. Of late, he’d exhibited widely, taught art and design at a number of Korean arts institutions and was working on a range of art and design projects, among them design-it-yourself meditation pods.

An artist obsessed with ephemerality and the everyday, Emil’s output was substantial. In 2005 he showed at the Jakarta International Video Festival and in Seoul: Until Now in Copenhagen. His work was included in Mix-Ed at Sherman Galleries, 2004, in Location Location, at the Australia Centre for Photography, Sydney, 2003, and in 2004 he participated in the Busan Biennale at the Busan Metropolitan Art Museum. Emil had residencies at London’s Hayward Gallery, Hong Kong University, the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester and SSamzie Space, Seoul.

We recall with pleasure Emil’s work, Between, at the old Performance Space in Redfern. Displaying his customary intimacy and lightness of touch, it comprised 360º video panoramas he had made by perching his rotating miniDV camera on window sills to reveal a 180º view of the inside of a familiar room in two different cities and the view outside. At the time he described the impetus for the work thus: “My entire childhood was spent moving all over Malaysia when my father was transferred for work. It was kinda fun growing up in so many different houses. As a result, I’ve been fascinated how people live ever since.”

This fascination extended to online lives in Emil’s MyCy series made in Korea, the city that became the focus for his work. “What makes MyCy so interesting is the miniroom, one of the main features of a Cyworld Minihompy (homepage). It’s a blank room a user can decorate so in essence it becomes their online ‘living room” or any other type of space they desire. On the surface, it seems trivial, but it’s a reflection of life in Seoul as a young person. Most live with their parents till they get married and the home in general is exclusively for the family, not a place for socializing. So the miniroom is the public manifestation of one’s perfect ‘private’ space. Hence my fascination for domestic living situations has extended to their online versions and the pairing allows me to explore both landscapes.”

Seoul, it seems, was a city made for Emil with its super high speed broadband and where, he wrote, “updating your Minihompy everyday is de rigueur…Korea is a very young and evolving economy. Highly developed parts of the city were rice fields 25 years ago. The city is changing very fast, and observing the adaptations and the process of transition are at the core of my work/research. I guess you could say I am doing a kind of study in the manner of a documentary project.”

His documentation took him on some winding paths, gathering friends and colleagues along the way. One of these says: “He was collecting pictures of the city. According to his latest report he had over 49,000 in his hard-drive. He could spend days riding his GPS-enhanced bike while taking shots of buildings, people or just different types of kimchi. I swear I saw him photographing every single dish we ordered at restaurants. He collected all sorts of mobile phones just for the pleasure of understanding how they work. He even got an iPhone when it was not possible to use it in Korea just to play around with the UI.” http://arduino.cc/blog/?p=333

Fittingly, the record of Emil Goh’s considerable artistic achievement is well archived at http://www.vwfa.net. A prolific poster, it’s wonderful as well to read and see on the net the myriad manifestations of this remarkable artist in his own words and images and those of the many others whose lives he touched. Keith & Virginia

RealTime issue #93 Oct-Nov 2009 pg. 54

© Keith Gallasch & Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

8 October 2009