By Maria Anderson
Internationally renowned artist Do Ho Suh creates immersive fabric installations, inviting you to step into his former homes.
His sculptures offer a glimpse into his life, through his memories, while also exploring concepts of migration, national identity and ultimately the homes left behind.
“Suh’s work is very personal,” says Sarah Newman, the James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “He reconstructs his past homes and lets us into his memories.”
The artist was born in Korea and moved to the U.S. at the age of 29, and currently lives between New York, London and Seoul. Newman organized “Do Ho Suh: Almost Home,” the first major exhibition of Suh’s work on the East Coast, currently on view at the museum.
Suh constructs his sculptures out of colorful, sheer fabric. Their ethereal look contrasts with the ordinary nature of the material. He uses cheap polyester commonly used to make Korean summer clothes, which is inexpensive, readily available and has a strong connection to traditional Korean dressmaking.
“In Korean, the word ‘jitda’ means both to make a dress and to make a house,” Newman says. “Through his work, Suh makes a direct connection between a dress and a house as being intimate spaces around us. They are personal, yet outward facing.”
Suh has spent years learning traditional techniques from Korean seamstresses. He and his studio assistants take painstaking care to hand stitch every detail of his sculptures. All the labels on a fabric fire extinguisher, for example, are perfectly legible. Intricate details on an ornate door handle are clearly visible. His works represents thousands of hours of exacting labor.
Along with traditional dressmaking techniques, Suh uses high-tech 3D mapping and modeling programs that provide exact measurements. The stainless steel frames that form the sculptures’ skeletons are perfectly accurate in scale, from the smaller doorways in his Korean hallway to the microwave oven in his New York apartment.
The use of traditional and modern techniques mirrors Suh’s exploration of the past merging with the present. He recreates places and things from his past to live in their presence.
He refers to his installations as “suitcase homes” because they can be folded and carried anywhere, to be opened and installed again and again.
“Suh often refers to the snail, and its ability to carry its home with it wherever it goes,” Newman explains. “He’s very interested in the idea of always having your home with you.”
This desire to carry his home with him also speaks to his experience as an immigrant—existing between cultures and making a life in a new place while still keeping ties to his heritage and traditions.
Yet the concept of leaving home goes beyond the immigrant experience. Everyone knows what it’s like to leave a home at some point or another.
Through his work—inviting us into his home—Suh asks us to consider our own past homes, memories and experiences.
“It’s a very intimate exchange between the artist and the visitor,” Newman says.
“Do Ho Suh: Almost Home” is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through August 5, 2018.