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Germaine Koh: Fallow at Charles H. Scott Gallery

Bopha Chhay

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At One Remove from Fallow 

My first encounter with Germaine Koh’s Fallow was in 2015, when I worked as a curatorial assistant at the Charles H. Scott Gallery at Emily Carr University on Granville Island.1 As we ran cables between the wall and floor while installing a new exhibition, I came across a small, well-formed enclave of moss and a miscellany of weeds. I called my co-worker Kevin over to observe the flourishing patch. Unconcerned, he explained to me that Fallow would on occasion make unexpected appearances, despite having been deinstalled several years earlier in 2009. Fallow remained unbound by the dictates of exhibition timelines or gallery infrastructure. Its contents patiently embedded in nooks and crannies of the gallery, seeds and debris remained dormant until its conditions for germination were met.

I was taken by the fondness with which staff recalled their time with Fallow. The seemingly unproductive tract of land that had been relocated from an area of the False Creek Flats on Great Northern Way to the Charles H. Scott gallery proved to be anything but dormant.2 Alongside the administrative and logistical management of relocating the plot within an institution, curator Cate Rimmer and other staff relayed to me the unanticipated life that Fallow brought with it. At various stages, different critters that resided within Fallow emerged and made their way into the office with staff, and beyond. In caring for the work, staff were required to draw on skills and expertise that a landscaper would possess: from insect management to daily watering. Over the course of the show, desire lines, unplanned paths started to emerge within Fallow marking the presence of visitors.

Koh’s Fallow brought to attention histories and narratives that actively resist that determined by a neoliberal agenda. Over the past few decades, several projects in Vancouver have engaged the query of what “unproductive” means. Unproductive often refers to undeveloped land, or land slated for future development. Indicative of this is a different pace, a notable practice of slowing down. These projects include Mike McDonald’s Butterfly Gardens (1990s), Janis Bowley and Oliver Kelhammer’s Healing the Cut – Bridging the Gap (1993), Holly Schmidt’s Grow (2011) and Fireweeds Field (2021–ongoing), 221A’s Semi-Public (2014–ongoing), and Tʼuyʼtʼtanat-Cease Wyss and Anne Riley’s A Constellation for Remediation (2018–ongoing). These projects highlight that land is only deemed unproductive within a capitalist vernacular of value, overlooking other forms of value such as the relationships that were formed within a wider social and natural ecology. Our ability to rattle off square footage to price ratios as a metric to gauge value attributed to space, and subsequently land, is an indicator of how abstracted our relationships to place have become.

Koh reflects on these spatial interstices as integral to the city’s urban fabric “… these grounds could be seen as unplanned repositories of memory and history, and also sociohistorical breathing spaces, place markers noting the absence of former buildings and holding the place for others that will be built in some unknown future.”3 Upon the conclusion of Fallow, the plot was returned to its original location. As I looked through documentation of Fallow, I realized that in 2017 the ECU campus had moved to that very location on Great Northern Way. 

Bopha Chhay

Bopha Chhay is a curator, writer, and editor. Her research and writing interests are guided by transnationaland diasporic histories, collaborative practices, artistic labour, artists publishing, and writing on art.Influenced by a long-standing involvement in artist-run culture, her curatorial work aims to broaden anunderstanding of artistic practice and cultural production within a wider social and economic context.Chhay has held positions at Artspeak Gallery (Vancouver, BC), 221A Artist Run Centre (Vancouver, BC),Enjoy Contemporary Art Space (Wellington, NZ), and Afterall Research Centre, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London (London, UK).


1 Germaine Koh’s exhibition Fallow was held at Charles H. Scott Gallery, at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver from February 4 to March 8, 2009. Curated by Cate Rimmer. 

2 Fallow was relocated from a plot of land at the Great Northern Way Campus, a commercial educational enterprise from a donation of twenty acres of former industrial land by the Canadian company Finning, featuring a partnership between four universities: Emily Carr University of Art and Design, University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and British Columbia Institute of Technology.

3 Germaine Koh, “Fallow Field Notes,” Fallow: Germaine Koh (cat.), Charles H. Scott Gallery, Vancouver, 2011, p. 53.