A majestically scaled, technologically produced waterfall cascades at the end of the Turbine Hall on Cockatoo Island. An uncanny appearance of a natural phenomenon in the built environment, it represents a doubled and strange meeting of culture and nature. Its placement hints at the dry, rocky crevice seen just outside the building, practically next to the flowing and tumultuous stream of water we now witness.
I AM THE RIVER (2012) unleashes energy into the now redundant and dormant space of the island’s post-industrial site, a place once given over to producing power. The sound of the waterfall fills the air, while its dwarfing image plunges down in sheer and agitated movement. Like those before us, our instinct is to draw closer to the massive sheet of water. We are lured towards it to test ourselves in the face of its enormity. The work brings into question our changing relationship to the natural environment, affected by rapid technological innovation.
Just as the idea of the island as an imaginary place – a potential utopia or fantasy destination – exists as a cultural trope, so too has the waterfall become a genre, an allegory, a mystical vision. From ancient times until now, this most startling and awesome spectacle has been imagined into a thing of myth and storytelling. In western art, and in particular the Romantic period, great waterfalls represent awesome nature in the category of the sublime, providing for artists and philosophers alike the vastness, rugged and delightful horror that produces both the pleasure and pain one seeks in the contemplation of life. So this aesthetically beautiful and emotionally charged piece also becomes a meditation on the core of human existence. The title is taken from the essay ‘A New Refutation of Time’ by the Argentinian writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges: ‘Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river.’
Koch’s practice encompasses many mediums, from large sculptural pieces to photography, video installation and sound. Her works are often interactive and site-specific, purposefully activating the environment in which they are installed. For Calais (2010), shown at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, a video of the French port of Calais was projected behind the museum’s cast of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Burghers of Calais (1889). Rodin’s work represents the six men who, according to legend, surrendered themselves to King Edward III during the English siege of the city in order to protect their fellow citizens. The combination of the sculpted figures – emaciated yet proud – and the images of Calais hundreds of years later, dilapidated and overrun with tourists, creates a tense juxtaposition.
Villar (2001), shown at the 50th Venice Biennale (2003), documents the life experience of Koch’s mother, Cristobalina, who was separated from her family during the Spanish Civil War and reunited with them by coincidence decades later. The narrative is broken up on a series of screens so that viewers physically enter the space and move around to psychologically enter the story at various points with different characters. Koch is interested in how we interpret the visual and our haptic interaction with our surroundings, whether real or projected. In the piece, viewers effectively manipulate the content, bringing their own preferences and modes of engagement to the artist’s personal history.
Similarly, Koch’s video installation Confer (2008) presents viewers with two projections set opposite each other: one depicts a close-up of a double bass, the other a helicopter against the background of a lightly clouded sky. The deep tones of the string instrument become a soundtrack for the flight of the helicopter as it disappears and re-emerges from the clouds. The two elements ‘play’ each other, converse with one another – the helicopter’s drone mimics and encourages the instrument’s, and vice versa, and the viewer takes a position in the middle, forming the apex of the piece.
Koch trained as a sculptor and media artist at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, and the University of Barcelona. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘IFITRY waiting’, Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen (2013); ‘I AM THE RIVER’, Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen (2012); ‘June’s Lace’, Brandts, Odense (2011); ‘Salammbô’, Ny Carlsberg Glypotek, Copenhagen (2010); and ‘NoMad’, MOSTYN, Wales (2009). Her work has also been included in numerous international group shows, including ‘Desire Lines’, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2012); 53rd Venice Biennale (2009); and ‘Global Cities’, Tate Modern, London (2007). In 2010, Koch’s work NoMad (1998) won her an award for contribution to the conception of the 51st October Salon in Belgrade.