Art Radar has a look at Do Ho Suh’s work on show in Venice on the occasion of the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale.
Exploring the multilayered meaning of space, and home, Do Ho Suh continues on his poetic journey through the labyrinthine nature of belonging.
Be it physical and spatial or spiritual and philosophical, the notion of ‘belonging’ is one that now more than ever embodies a universal search for what and where home might be. Global movement is at a historic high, with the growing digitally nomadic lifestyle as well as the ongoing migratory crisis with no end in sight. Korean-born artist Do Ho Suh has in his own time experienced a kind of migration, if voluntary but no less ‘alienating’ in space. Moving from his native Seoul, where he was born in 1962, he went to the United States where he received a BFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA in Sculpture from Yale University. After graduating, his artistic career took him to various shores, to finally ‘settle’ between three cities – Seoul, New York and London.
Perhaps in a search for familiarity in the new spaces he inhabited away from his original home, Do Ho Suh started paying particular attention to his architectural surroundings, both the spaces’ structures as well as their details and fittings that rendered them functional and habitable.
Do is well known for his seemingly ephemeral, delicate architectural replicas, made of thread and paper. He has gone as far as recreating entire apartments, with doorways and corridors in colourful, transparent paper, creating architetural spaces that appear as if out of a dream. At Victoria Miro’s Venice gallery this summer, Do is showing works from his ongoing series entitled “Rubbing/Loving”, which he made at STPI Creative Workshop in Singapore. Here, Do focuses on the details of living spaces rather than the macro-structure. Looking at what constitutes the more intimate aspects of a living space, Do made rubbings of interior spaces and everyday objects, in “a process that discloses and memorialises details of the artist’s surrounding”, as the gallery explains.
The focus shifts on single objects like a phone, reproduced in yellow, or fixtures and fittings attached to the walls, like water pipes and taps in pastel colours. Do creates these delicate works by lining the original objects in paper and then rubbing the surface with coloured pastels. Finally, the artist reconstructs them in three-dimensional form, placing them in between drawing and scultpure. There is something poetic, and oniric, about these representations, which speak to the artist’s desire to imbue the quotidian with what Victoria Miro calls “a quiet poetry”, as well as his effort to connect with his manmade surroundings. The gallery writes in the press release:
Touch and its repetition is a key aspect of Suh’s Rubbing/Loving works. Suh has often drawn parallels between architectural space and the body, and in these works the paper functions as an epidermis – a second or surrogate skin – that bears the impression of his own touch: pastel, applied with the fingertips in a gesture the artist describes as a ‘caress’.
Do’s works appear like traces of memory – the memory of spaces he has encountered throughout his life in different places. They are projections of reality, “they encapsulate wider ideas in his art about home and belonging, malleable space and memory, and the boundaries of identity within a shared realm”.
Also on show in Venice, is his work in the Japan Pavilion’s exhibition “Architectural Ethnography from Tokyo: Guidebooks and Projects on Livelihood”, while his film Robin Hood Gardens, Woolmore St, London E14 0HG (2018) is presented as part of Victoria & Albert Museum’s exhibition in the Pavilion of Applied Arts, “Robin Hood Gardens: A Ruin in Reverse”.
The show centres around the concrete fragments of Robin Hood Gardens transported in Venice from their original location in Poplar, East London. These architectural fragments are taken from a housing estate by Alison and Peter Smithson in the process of being demolished. Just before the destruction began in 2017, London’s V&A salvaged a three-storey section of each façade and the original interior fittings of two flats.
Do’s film somehow reflects on what Winston Churchill once stated: “We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.” Do’s film is shaped by the architecture and interiors of Robin Hood Gardens before demolition. It is both site-specific and time-speficic, and it documents the modular interiors of the building with the adaptations, decoration and furnishings of the residents. It shows how the architects shaped the building in response to what function it had to fulfil as a housing project, as well as how the residents adapted their life around the living spaces provided to them.
Do moves from one space to the other, in a contemplative, constant pace, focusing on the different styles of each dwelling, denoting the variety of the meanings of home, identiy and belonging for different individuals. The gallery explains how the film is not only a document of memory, but also a window onto the future:
Its sustained motion accentuates the feeling of transition experienced by the residents and heightens a sense of imminence, of a building on the verge of demolition, less than fifty years after the architects’ utopian vision was realised.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
Do Ho Suh’s “Rubbing/Loving” is on view from 25 May to 7 July 2018 at Victoria Miro Venice, Il Capricorno, San Marco 1994, 30124 Venice, Italy. The 16th Venice Architecture Biennale runs until 25 November 2018.
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