Sponges, dowels, pool toys, chairs, marking tape, paperbacks, trellises: these odds and ends are the stuff of dusty stacks in overstuffed garages, but to Olga Lah, these commonplace objects are the building blocks of poetic installations. At the LA Art Show this week, the Long Beach artist will unveil a brand-new feature installation for the Korea Arts Foundation of America, which chose her as the 2014 winner of their prestigious biannual award.
Currently under construction in a thirty-six by eight-foot space for opening night on Wednesday, Lah’s LA Art Show installation is comprised of several hundred styrofoam cylinders attached to each other with wooden skewers. “I’m interested in the play of intersecting lines and angles,” Lah explains. “I’m hoping to start building clusters of forms up on each other so that the piece rises and falls.” An intrinsic part of her artistic practice is listening to the materials through the process of construction without freighting the installations with too much prewritten meaning. “It’s a completely spontaneous piece; I’m constructing and coming up with the plan as I go along. I probably will have more to say about it later on, but for now the form is what I’m concerned with.”
Dollar stores, Home Depot, and the Gardena nonprofit Trash For Teaching (which sells bulk materials for a dollar a pound) are where Lah finds both inspiration and practical solutions for her dazzling and immersive installations. By nature impermanent and fleeting, installation art exists only as long as the space allows and is subject to the constant changes: time of day, light, audience. These qualities make it a natural match with Lah’s expansive subject, meditations on spirituality and the notion of the soul, a focus she developed growing up in the South Bay, where church was at the center of the artist’s Korean immigrant family’s social life.
Faith became an even more important part of Lah’s artistic development as an undergraduate at UC Riverside, where she began a personal quest that led her to complete a master’s degree in Theology from Pasadena’s Fuller Theological Seminary in 2009. But the disciplined concerns that motivate her work are counterbalanced by a rich and playful practicality, evidenced in the choice of materials and eye for color on display on pieces such as 2011’s “Burst,” an anemone-like explosion of pool noodles, which has had an unexpected second life on Pinterest as a “fun craft project.”
In addition to the KAFA Award, Lah’s work has been honored with awards from the Arts Council for Long Beach, the Art of Now International Competition, and residencies in Italy and Slovenia—so now is the perfect time to check out the soaring work of this hometown artist.
Check out Olga Lah’s installation at LA Art Show, located in Section D4/E4 of the L.A. Convention Center, starting tomorrow.