CNY Arts, Inc.


Light Work Presents Sophia Chai: Character Space

(SYRACUSE, NY January 2nd, 2024) - Light Work Presents Character Space, an exhibition by Sophia Chai. 

Sophia Chai’s Character Space comprises photographs that are a return to her mother tongue, Korean. In these studio-made images she references these written characters and enacts three key ideas of language, optics, and photography. 

An opening reception will take place in the Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery at Light Work on April 4th, from 6-7 PM. There will be a public lecture in Watson Theater from 5-6 PM.

This event is part of the Syracuse University Humanities Center’s 20th annual Syracuse Symposium, focused on a “Landscapes” theme for


“While being carried on the back of my mother in our neighborhood of Busan, I would point at the signs and repeat the words that Mom would read to me. Soon I was able to read without understanding all of the words. The ease of learning to read the Korean alphabet is because
there is a certain logic. The shapes of the vowel characteristics, for instance, correlate with how open or closed you could make the inside space of your mouth in making each word. Each character is a picture diagram of the space inside the mouth.” —Sophia Chai 

In 1987, Chai immigrated to New York City from South Korea as a teenager without knowing English. Looking back, she has described that experience as feeling untethered to any internal compass that she could use to navigate her place in a new country with a new language. She
visually explains these experiences to us by reinterpreting the Korean language’s characters in photographs that enable us to see the contradictions of visual and verbal communication. Her images rest in the space between intellect and intuition. Chai’s curiosity about the interior space of her tool—the large format camera, comparable to the interior space of a mouth—leads to the idea of the camera obscura, a darkened room with a small opening to the world.

Chai uses optics (focal length, perspective, perception, and magnification) to pin down the marks, rubbings, and paintings on her studio walls. The overall effect is a collage of ideas, with an efficient yet complicated economy of picture making with intentional gaps. These gaps can
describe the moment right before the sound of a word comes out of the interior space of the mouth. One’s mouth may understand and sound out words, but one’s conscious knowledge of their meaning may not be fully there yet. This liminal space is the punctuated strength and
slippery ambiguity of her photographs. Chai is an artist who remains open and disciplined, committing to the mindset of the child at odds with that of the adult. The photographs born from this are restrained but not withholding. 

Sophia Chai was born in Busan, South Korea. She received her BA in chemistry from the University of Chicago and earned her MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Chai has presented her work widely at sites including the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Knockdown Center,
and multiple galleries. The city of Rochester and Destination Medical Center have commissioned her first permanent public outdoor art project to be completed in early 2024. Chai is represented by Hair+Nails Gallery. She lives and works in Rochester, MN.

Contact Sheet 224 includes an exhibition essay by Whitney Hubbs. Purchase the catalog online soon at

To request high-resolution images for press reproduction and interviews, contact Cali Banks, Light Work Communications Coordinator, at


Find Light Work’s galleries in the Robert B. Menschel Media Center, 316 Waverly Ave., Syracuse, New York. Gallery hours are: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Light Work closes on all major holidays. Contact Light
Work to schedule a guided tour of the galleries or the Light Work Lab. Follow Light Work on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. For general information, please visit, call (315) 443-1300, or email


Paid parking is available in the Booth Garage at the intersection of Comstock and Waverly Avenues, diagonally across the street from Light Work. There is also metered parking in front of the Syracuse University Library, on Walnut Avenue, and on Comstock Avenue across from
Booth Garage. Light Work’s gallery and office and the Community Darkrooms facility are located on the main floor of the Robert B. Menschel Media Center. Visit for more information on parking and directions to the galleries.


Light Work is a non-profit, artist-run organization dedicated to the support of artists working in photography and electronic media, located in the Robert B. Menschel Media Center. Light Work invites groups and individuals to schedule tours of the exhibitions and facility and to attend
gallery talks. Limited metered parking is available on Waverly Avenue and paid parking is available in Booth Parking Garage. Light Work thanks Syracuse University and Robert B.Menschel and Vital Projects, as well as the Andy Warhol Foundation, CNY Arts, the Central
New York Community Foundation, JGS (Joy of Giving Something Inc.), the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the subscribers to Contact Sheet for their dedicated and ongoing support of our programs. Light Work is a member of CMAC, the
Coalition of Museum and Art Centers at Syracuse University.