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Museum Exhibition

Mori Art Museum
Do Ho Suh + Po Po

July 25 – October 12, 2015

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Do Ho Suh

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May 8, 2013

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November 1, 2012

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June 16, 2012

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November 1, 2000

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September 29, 2000

ArtAsiaPacific


In late May, Do-Ho Suh unveiled his Fallen Star 1/5 Scale (2008)
in the exhibition "Psycho Buildings: Artists and Architecture" at
the Hayward Gallery in London. The exhibition featured artists
who construct dwelling-like structures and environments that
invite viewers to experience interior spaces mentally, emotionally
and even physically and to reflect on the active relationship of
the body and memory with such spaces. Fallen Star 1/5 Scale
is a large, full-color architectural model of Suh's New England
apartment, where the artist lived in 1993 while studying at the
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, physically
colliding with a model of his Korean childhood home, in the style
of a 19th-century scholar's retreat. In an April email message,
Suh described the title, Fallen Star, as "a 'star' that falls from
outer space. If there were a living being on that star, that being
would be alien to us-a visitor from another world. The title
implies the notion of 'displacement.'''
Fallen Star was Suh's fourth major installation and
conlmission within the past seven months on three continents:
North America, Europe and Asia. For an internationally exhibited
artist who splits his time between New York and Seoul when
he's not installing his work elsewhere, the idea of displacement
speaks not only to his personal story but also to the demands of
his chosen career. With a life in both Korea and the US, Suh has a
unique relationship to his place of origin. Vacillating between the
nostalgic and autobiographical, and the impersonal and political,
Suh's sculptures-always monumental in scale-are born of the
artist's removed perspective.
Born in 1962 in Seoul, Suh earned his BFA and MFA in
oriental painting at Seoul National University, and pursued a
second BFA in painting at RISD, graduating in 1994. He added
an MFA in sculpture at Yale University in 1997. He is best known
for his fabric dwellings that trigger awareness of the ambiguous
boundaries between personal and public spaces. Seminal works
from the late 1990s include semi-transparent recreations of his
childhood home, as in the celadon-colored silk installation,
Seoul Home (1999), and a pink nylon version of his apartment in
New York, 348 West 22nd St., Apt. A, New York, NY Wall (1999).
Applying the exact measurements of the original dwellings, Suh
created the sculptures at life-scale by sewing pieces of fabric
together with the help of master seamstresses in Korea. The
choice of medium was due to its lightness and transportability;
Seoul Home fits into two suitcases, perfect for an artist on the
move. As installations, both replicas are suspended from the
ceiling like canopies to resemble three-dimensional houses.
Seoul Home is hung so that it floats in the air, whereas 348 West
22nd St. is positioned so that the ground is level to the floor
of the house. In the case of the latter, viewers are welcome to
enter and explore the interior space which, in addition to walls,
ceilings and doors, includes details such as bookshelves, sinks,
light switches, sockets and doorknobs made entirely of fabric.
After graduation from Yale, a number of group exhibitions, notably,
a show at downtown hotspot Gavin Brown's enterprise
in 1997 and the PS 1Contemporary Art Center roundup of local
talent, "Greater New York" in 2000 helped Suh gain purchase
in the New York scene. This culminated with his first US solo
show at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in 2000. Concurrently, Suh
was also exhibiting at prestigious venues in Asia such as Gallery
Hyundai, Artsonje Center and Rodin Gallery in Seoul and Tokyo's
Shiseido Gallery.
With a growing reputation on two continents, Suh entered
the international art limelight at the 49th Venice Biennale in
2001, where he represented Korea and the US at both the Korea
and Italian pavilions. In the Korea Pavilion, Some/One (2001),
invited viewers to walk across a shimmering metal floor made
of approximately 100,000 military dog tags linked together and
engraved with randomly assorted numbers and letters. As they
progressed into an interior room, viewers discovered that the
"floor" was in fact an absurdly long train extending from a larger-than-
life coat of armor, standing nine feet tall with its back to
the entrance. Circling the ominous, hollow effigy, viewers found
an opening in the armor which, lined on the inside with mirror
sheets, cast back their distorted reflections.
Inspired in part by Suh's two years of mandatory service in
the Korean army, the work is a powerful meditation on identity,
group dynamics and' individual responsibility in the shadow
of what is sti.ll a heavily-militarized international war zone.
Using the mechanisms of sensation and exploration, Some/
One asks viewers to recognize something about themselves
by going through an alienating process as they are confronted
with unfamiliar terrain. Suh recounted in an interview with the
PBS television series, ART:21, that his vision for the installation
actually came from a dream in which he found himself walking
across a football stadium in which the same coat of armor and
train made of dog-tags covered the entire playing field. Suh
recalls that in his dream, he was haunted by the clicking sound
of the dog-tags as he walked over them.
Some/One also developed strategies apparent in an earlier
work included in the Italian Pavilion, Floor (1997-2001), which
startled viewers with a seemingly empty room. As they walked
across the room's glass-panel floor, viewers realized that the floor
was held up by 180,000 miniature figures made of PVC material,
their arms and palms raised in a supporting gesture. Stunning
and full of wit, Floor combined Suh's technical finesse with his
interest in defining the intersection between individuals and the
public sphere. Together the two installations at Venice embodied
Suh's dueling, twin themes: culture as represented through a
subjective standpoint (his own memories and dreams) and
culture seen from an objective remove, in which individuality
is eclipsed by the volume of individuals participating en masse.
The appearance at Venice was the culmination of an almost
decade-long transformation for Suh, who comes from an artistic
and scholarly background. His father, Suh Se-Ok, a famous ink
painter who established the Mungnimhoe art movement in the
early 1960s, promoted modernism in Korea using traditional
materials of ink, brush and paper. Suh, along with his younger
brother, grew up learning the Korean traditional scholarly arts:
painting, poetry and calligraphy. Conseqtlently, Suh followed
in his father's footsteps by majoring in oriental painting and
exhibiting his contemporary ink paintings in several shows in
Seoul in the late 1980s.
Suh was already following a successful trajectory by the
time he moved to the US to pursue a second BFA in painting at
RISD, having been included in the 1989 Sao Paulo Biennial and
surveys at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Kwachon,
and Kiev City Museum in 1990. Yet RISD changed the course
of his life and career. While there, Suh, in a last minute attempt
to fulfill a required non-elective studio course, signed up for a
sculpture class after the glass-blowing class he first selected
was unavailable. One of the assignments given in the sculpture
class required students to create a sculpture using clothing
to address identity. Attaching 3,000 military dog tags to the
liner of a standard-issue US military jacket, Suh created Metal
Jacket (1993), which later became the basis for Some/One. After
completing the requirement, Suh made a conscious decision to
stop painting and continue making sculptures.
Since then, Suh's early work with clothing and notions of
identity in relation to space has evolved to include abstract
ideas rendered in three dimensions. Karma (2003) is a
massive fiberglass sculpture of two legs dressed in suit pants
and shiny oxford shoes that extend in mid-stride from floor
to ceiling. Recalling the Venice Floor installation, a cluster
of tiny figures supports the weight of the hind foot, while
others run into position under the other foot as it descends to
the ground. The big authority stepping on the little people is
a popular reading of Karma. Suh, however, sees the work as
depicting interdependence, with the giant and the little people
symbioticaloly supporting each other. The strides of a nation are
supported by its many citizens.
Karma remains an important concept for Suh, whose recent
work includes the installation Cause and Effect (2007-08), first
created for a solo exhibition at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in late
2007. In this work, thousands of interlocking figures made of
transparent resin, colored in a gradient from red and orange to
white hues, are suspended from the ceiling to form a swirling
vortex. In early 2008, Suh revisited the work in a permanent
installation for the inauguration of the Towada Art Center in
Aomori province in Japan. This new version plunges from the
art center's 30-foot high ceiling into a blood-red, attenuated
spike. Ringing the centerpiece is a transparent curtain of white
figures. With the compositional figures hunched on each other's
backs, Cause and Effect's dichotomy between individual and
collective takes on transcendent dimensions. Visually, the work
is breath-taking, but it remains uncertain as to whether this
sublime force of nature represents humanity's destructive or
creative capabilities.
Coming full-circle from grand, cosmic themes to intimate
concerns, the Hayward Gallery installation, Fallen Star 1/5 Scale
(2008), marks the beginning of a 13-chapter narrative entitled
"Speculation Project," an autobiographical series addressing
Suh's experience of moving from Korea to the US. Suh began
creating works for the "Fallen Star" series while he was an
artist-in-residence at Artpace in San Antonio in 2006. The
story begins with Fallen Star: Wind of Destiny (2006), in which
a miniature Korean traditional house constructed out of white
resin sits precariously on top of a vortex made of carved white
Styrofoam pieces. Suh suspended the work from the ceiling and
viewers, following the rise of the powerful twister, could discern
a model of a Korean traditional house perched on top. The work
is about Suh's sudden and chaotic departure from Korea and the
unknown future ahead.
Subsequently, in Fallen Star: New Beginning 0/35 Scale)
(2006), Suh visualizes the violent collision of the wooden Korean
house-a representation of his family home-with his three-story,
New England apartment, this time with the structures at 1/35
of their original scales. Suh meticulously copied every detail
of both houses, complete with the paper window shades, red
brick facade and gray-tiled roof of the New England house and
the ceramic-tile roof, wooden doors and windows, and even
the Chinese calligraphy written on vertical sheets of paper and
wooden panels of the Korean house. Commenting on the "Fallen
Star" narrative, Suh imagines the Korean house flying across the
Pacific Ocean, colliding with the New England house and coming
back to earth with a parachute to ensure its safe landing.
Both houses increase in size as the narrative progresses.
Fallen Star 1/8 Scale (2006) shows the Korean house becoming
part of the New England house. Scaffolding is visible underneath
the Korean house and new bricks have been placed around the
point of contact between the two structures to indicate the
process of assimilation, corresponding with the period and
process of adjustment Suh underwent while a student at RISD.
The most recent installment in London, Fallen Star 1/5 Scale
(2008), is more than 12 feet in height, with the interior furniture,
objects and architectural details also growing in size along with
the buildings. Viewers can see in greater detail the interiors and
exteriors of both houses.
Suh began his career using silk to recreate life-scale
architectural interiors that contained deep emotions and
meaningful memories. As with the other artists selected in
the Hayward exhibition, including the provocative Austrian
collective Gelitin, known for assembling junk and scraps into
dysfunctional communal spaces, and the Japanese architects
Atelier Bow-wow, who conceived the concept of "pet
architecture" in response to the extreme constraints on urban
space in Tokyo, Suh makes architectural environments that
reflect on the history of specific buildings, materials, processes
of fabrication and the social, cultural and political meanings
attached to architecture.
Having accepted a prestigious artist-in-residence program
in Berlin, Suh plans to focus on the next chapters of the
"Speculation Project" there. The future architectural installments
will again invite the audience to experience directly Suh's vision
and personal references, and at the same time renew social,
human and spatial relations.
Do-Ho Suh's Fallen Star 1/5 Scale will continue in exhibition in "Psycho Buildings"
at the Hayward Gallery in London through August 25.
Christine Starkman is curator of Asian art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.