At his first major exhibition on the East Coast of the United States, Do Ho Suh presents his “suitcase homes” to capture his own history of migration.
Art Radar looks at the exhibition and talks with the curator, Sarah Newman, to find out more about the show.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) features large-scale installations of Do Ho Suh’s colourful and diaphanous fabric sculptures called “Hub”, his drawings and a series of small-scale translucent fabric sculptures that depict household objects and appliances with the title of “Specimens” in his latest solo exhibition “Almost Home”. Do Ho Suh was born in Korea in 1962 and moved to the United States in 1991 to study at the Rhode Island School of Design and Yale University. Do is internationally known for his architectural installations with semitransparent fabrics that explore the nature and meaning of home. Currently, he lives between London, New York and Seoul.
His works are highly inspired by his transient way living. Do Ho Suh also links his memory of home with migration and the global nature of contemporary identity. The artist illustrates his thoughts in the exhibition catalogue thus:
Home is everywhere and nowhere. . . . When I was growing up in my home in Korea, I never thought about it twice . . . After I left . . . home started to exist as an issue . . . and started to occupy me.
“I see life as a passageway, with no fixed beginning or destination. We tend to focus on the destination all the time and forget about the in-between spaces”, says the artist. Do Ho Suh’s idea of home is clearly interwoven through the series of works “Hubs”. “Hubs” explore different places that he lived in throughout his life and recreate his memories into physical spaces. Do moved around about nine times when he was studying in the United States. Adapting to his condition of life, he needed to make his belongings as light as possible so he could move on to the next place easily whenever he relocated. His works “Hubs” are not the exception; he considers his “Hubs” as “suitcase homes”. He made all the pieces collapsible, flat-packable and portable.
At the exhibition “Almost Home”, Do brought various parts of his previous homes in Asia, Europe and the United States. The pink passageway refers to his apartment in Chelsea, New York, where he lived from 1997 to 2016. The green hallway is from his apartment in Berlin, where he lived in 2002. The blue corridor, which is a Do’s new work that is introduced for the first time through this exhibition, is from his childhood home in Seoul. These combined “Hubs” are all handmade and hand-stitched with translucent Korean summer fabrics by the craftsmen who trained for years from Korean artisans. These linked corridors and hallway spaces welcome visitors to enter and see the details closely by walking inside them and around as if they were visiting the artist’s home and experiencing his private life.
The exhibition “Almost Home” is the interconnection of the space, time and memory of Do’s life. With his ideal version of home, the artist examines not only the story of his personal life and but also speaks to the national identity of contemporary society. For him, home is an ethereal yet temporary place and he wants to bring all the memories along with him in his continuing journey.
Art Radar speaks to Sarah Newman, The James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art, to find out more about the exhibition and the stories behind the preparation of the show.
“Do Ho Suh: Almost Home” is the first major exhibition of the artist’s work on the East Coast. Could you tell us why it is significant to present his work on the East Coast and specifically at the Smithsonian American Art Museum?
We are honoured to be presenting the first major exhibition of the artist’s work on the East Coast. At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, we are in the constant process of trying to understand and think about the contours of American experience and how it is defined. Although Suh is a Korean citizen, and lives in many different places, he spent many years of his life in this country. The formative years of his artistic career were spent in the United States and he developed his ideas for his “portable architecture works” here, so his work is very much a product of this country in a basic sense. More broadly, however, his experience of coming from another country and trying to make a new life here while not forgetting about the old one is a classic American immigrant story. The themes of Suh’s life and work – finding a way to process and assimilate different cultures and traditions – are universal, but they are also core to the American experience.
Do Ho Suh’s new work has debuted in the exhibition. What was the genesis of showing his new work through this show?
We wanted to present a “passageway through time and space” that represents the way that the artist experiences his various homes psychologically and emotionally – all existing at the same time. We knew we were showing New York and Berlin, and felt that it was important to represent his childhood home in Korea, which is such an important place to the artist and so important to the development of his work.
On the online press, it says Do Ho Suh’s work is engaging with the impact of migration and his work is about broader issues of identity and migration. Could you speak to these broader issues of identity and the impact of migration that the artist depicts through this exhibition?
[You can in part refer to my first answer here]. Do Ho Suh’s remade structures and objects are an attempt to assuage the loss felt from leaving his various homes – and cultures – behind. They fill in for the actual places that are no longer in his life. While this work is incredibly personal and represents the story of one immigrant, it is also universal. Everyone has had the experience of leaving a place behind, and of pining for a childhood memory.
“Almost Home” is an interesting choice for a title. How did you come up with it, what is the meaning of it?
Suh’s work seems to me like a representation of a memory that still feels like a memory – they are exacting reproductions of his homes, but they are so diaphanous that they seem to be almost disappearing before your eyes. The title “Almost Home” was an attempt to capture that sensation.
How has the exhibition process been?
I very much enjoyed the challenge of installing Suh’s ethereal works in our heavy, granite-columned, historic spaces. The artist was incredibly generous and was a great partner throughout.
What can Art Radar readers look forward to in the exhibition?
The works are visually mesmerising, and walking in and among them reminds me of walking through D.C.’s cherry blossoms when they are in bloom – the art changes the light and creates a dreamlike quality. But it’s also a poignant meditation on beauty, loss and the nature of identity in the contemporary world.
What upcoming projects are you planning next?
I am working on an exhibition with the artist Tiffany Chung entitled “Tiffany Chung: Vietnam, Past Is Prologue”. It is the artist’s first solo museum show in the United States.
Soo Jeong Kang
“Do Ho Suh: Almost Home” is on view from 16 March to 5 August 2018 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, F St NW & 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, United States.
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