Do Ho Suh and the Meaning of Home
Twenty years ago, Korean-born artist Do Ho Suh, freshly graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, was living on a noisy block of 113th Street in Manhattan and desperate for a good night’s sleep. He yearned for the calm and quiet of his small childhood bedroom in Seoul. “I wanted to bring that house, somehow, to my New York apartment,” he has said. “So, that’s where everything started.”
“Everything” is Suh’s Home series, in which he recreates personal structures as a way of dealing with cultural displacement, the longing for home, and the blurry boundaries between public and private spaces. His preferred medium for this work is translucent fabric that, meticulously sewed and seamed, not only traces contours and details but also evokes the ambiance of the original space. “I had to make something that’s light and transportable,” said Suh, “something that you can fold and put in a suitcase and bring with you all the time.”
In Home within Home within Home within Home within Home, on view through May 11 at the new Seoul outpost of Korea’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, he has created his largest work to date: a reproduction of his family's traditional-style Korean house in Seoul that is nested inside a life-size replica of the three-story town house where he lived as a RISD student in 1991. Explained Suh, “The Korean house is suspended in the air and the American house is freestanding and grounded—so you can enter into the house and you can wander around it.”
“You spend so much time in the home and touch these objects every day. If I had the ability to trace energy, I’m pretty sure there would be an accumulation of the energy on the object. It’s almost like I’m peeling the energy off from the object to render that sort of intangible trace of touch.”Do Ho Suh
His recent solo exhibition at Lehmann Maupin gallery in Hong Kong explored the idea of home and personal memories on a more intimate scale, through reproductions of objects from his former apartments in New York City and Berlin. Part of his ongoing Specimen series, the fabric sculptures range from a light switch and a medicine cabinet to a refrigerator and a radiator from the corridor. He describes the making of these objects, which were illuminated from behind and arranged as if at home, as a “very caring and loving” process of recreating memories.
For Suh, household objects function as landmarks within living spaces. “A close friend in New York recently moved to a much bigger apartment, but her daughter didn’t want to move out because she has this very peculiar and close relationship with the doorknob on the door to her bedroom,” he has said. “So she didn’t want to leave the house because of the doorknob. People make an interesting attachment to this everyday life stuff.”
“What I’m trying to do is memorialize the idea of the home—to carry it with me wherever I go. It sounds like such a cliché, but for me home is ultimately where the heart is. Actually that’s a really nice way of putting it. I think it’s more accurate to say that I feel like I’m haunted by a space. It’s like a ghost, following me around all the time.”Do Ho Suh