Do Ho Suh’s solo exhibition highlights the artist’s fabric replicas of the places where he once lived. Reproduced at a 1:1 scale and in a range of colours, this well-known mode of his practice not only charts the route Suh’s life has taken, but also creates a presence that is more atmospheric than architectural. Based on residences in Berlin, London, Seoul, and New York City, these markers speak of the evanescence of past experiences and the frailty of memory. Their cumulative effect balances the mnemonic with fact.
Two versions of this type of work are presented here. One consists of nine structures that have been strung together to form a multi-hued hallway through which viewers can stroll. The second is more introspective. ‘Staircase-III’ (2003/2010) has been suspended from the centre of a horizontal scrim spread across the entire space. It suffuses the room in a muted red glow and posits viewers on the threshold between the material world and reverie. Rather than drawing attention to a particular site, this installation expresses something difficult to explain, but which also feels natural, innate or, possibly, universal.
Do Ho Suh has compared architecture to clothing and sees the house as a type of second skin, which he describes as the “most intimate inhabitable space.” The light weight material he uses to create his sculptures, in fact, is used for summer wear in Korea. Suh is also interested in the idea of the suitcase home, something that recalls a tent, a collapsible shelter that is easily transported. This idea of art that can be packed into a suitcase recalls Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Boîtes-en-Valise’ (1935-1941), a series of mini-museums that document his oeuvre. The concept has also been advanced by Ed Pien, the Taiwanese/Canadian artist who produces large cut paper works, and the young Indian artist Sharmistha Kar’s recent ‘Soft Shelter’ series.
Do Ho Suh’s interest in personal histories, life cycles and migration permeates his output. The chronologically ordered series of school and military uniforms making up ‘Uni-Form/s: Self-Portrait/s: My 39 Years’ (2006), which dominates the first exhibition gallery, provides the first instance of this concern. It is also evident in the way the work ‘Secret Garden’ (2012) parallels ‘The Pram Project’ (2014-2016). While the former references Suh’s childhood experience of leaving home (his secret garden) for school, the latter emphasises his young children’s perspective. Three pram-mounted GoPro cameras were used to chronicle the tour of their new London neighbourhood. ‘Secret Garden’ also puts an unusual spin on the subject of relocation. The walled Korean garden, shown in the form of a model and digital animation, rests on a trailer and can be hauled by truck wherever it needs to go. The theme is echoed in ‘Chapelle St-Louis de la Salpêtrière’ (2010), a comical image of a man with the chapel attached to his head, and ‘In Between Hotel: Model 1 (Scale 1/6)’ (2015), realised for the Gwangju Biennial. The camouflaged motorhome, designed to blend into urban surroundings, welcomes residents with a doormat stating: “Home is Everywhere and Nowhere.”
The solidity of the wooden structures that house ‘Rubbing/Loving Project: Dormitory Room at Gwangju Catholic Lifelong Insitute’ and ‘Rubbing/Loving Project: Company Housing of Gwangju Theatre’ (both 2012) appears at odds with the temporality and mobility conveyed by other selections here – at least initially. The rubbings on paper, which cover the interior walls and ceilings of both structures, were originally executed in the residences of people that survived the Gwangju Massacre in 1980. The rubbings, as such, not only reference the Korean military’s brutal response to a student protest calling for an end to martial law, but also suggest that the surfaces of these spaces carry the residues of the former inhabitants’ experiences. These projects, not only revisit, but also commemorate an event originally censored by Korea’s administration and news media. Together, the installations and accompanying videos offer proof of the special relationship fostered by the process of making these rubbings between the gallery spaces, the artist and his assistants. That sense of intimacy and poignancy, by virtue of their proximity, extends to the viewer.
In retrospect, this pair of works stand out for the way they contrast with the other compositions. These spaces feel claustrophobic in comparison to the ethereal spaciousness of the fabric pieces and, unlike the pristine condition of Suh’s colourful installations, models and other paper based works, the paper used to make the rubbings is worn, torn and buckled in places. The tones are also quite muted. Seen as a whole, the presentation offers a broad range of perspectives on the idea of home. Encompassing aspects that are specific and general, wistful and joyful, fleeting and longstanding, abstract and real, Suh’s work speaks to young and old, as well as people of diverse cultural backgrounds