Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.
Our experience of home deepens and changes with time. Does moving away from our roots help us understand them better?
Do-ho Suh grew up fascinated by the sea. His dream was to become a marine biologist and study the movements and migrations of fish. Unfortunately, his math scores were not up to par to enter that field of study, so he followed in the footsteps of his father, the famous Se-ok Suh, gaining Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Oriental Painting from Seoul University. Although he did reasonably well, he didn’t really find his voice, perhaps because his father’s success made it difficult for him to establish his own identity. He did, however, fall for a fellow art student. When she moved to the United States for further study, so did he. The Rhode Island School of Design accepted Do-ho Suh, but only as a sophomore. He found it difficult to get into the classes he wanted to take, but decided to take a course in sculpture instead. There he found his medium. After graduating, he would continue sculpting as a Master’s student at Yale, building a preference for styrofoam, resin and fabric as opposed to more traditional materials.
Living in New York City was a different experience from living in Seoul, although both are crowded cities. Suh found it extremely difficult to sleep in New York due to the noise and often desired the serenity of his parent’s home. He wished he could bring that sense of peace with him and had the idea of constructing a portable model of his parent’s house out of fabric. This was the inspiration for a whole array of installations, beginning with Seoul Home. His mother helped him find fabric, which was then dyed to the color of jade, and put him in touch with traditional seamstresses that could help him realize his vision and teach him how to sew. He is constantly building on and transforming the concepts of home, homeland and the past. This video is a wonderful capsule of his work.
Video via Chloe Boleyn Palmer on YouTube.
Do-ho Suh is frequently on the move. It is interesting to note that he has, in a sense, become like a fish, migrating from one place to another for opportunity and growth. The colors and textures of his pieces are akin to those of the coral reef.
His interest in home does not only manifest in the creation of ethereal models of his former and current residences, but takes in other forms that contrast his modern, global identity with his traditional, Korean one. What a fascinating and thoughtful artist, capable of poetic recreation of space and memory!
Specimen Series Toilet
You can read the full interview from which the video was made here.
Today Suh lives in London, but he is still haunted by his former homes. Recently he has taken to making rubbings of his former New York studio, adding a deeply sensual element to his work. You can read about that here.
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Yin Xiuzhen is an installation artist exploring the impact of globalization and technological advances on society and the individual. The demolition and reconstruction in her native Beijing illuminate and inspire her work and help her capture the social change caused by both sudden and gradual transformations in physical space. As cities evolve, along with our ways of experiencing and navigating them, memories of the past become more distant and more precious. In China, where large numbers of rural citizens are being forced to move into new urban housing, this ache for the past is accelerated and exacerbated, but it can be found in any modern city. Xiuzhen uses her art to map these cities and the memories behind them.
Xiuzhen’s Portable Cities are three dimensional maps of actual cities made from articles of clothing and fabric modified and arranged in suitcases. We get the idea that the city is made up of the people who live and play there, not just the structures themselves. People leave their mark–just as we may spot a label, collar, or other adornment decorating these miniature cityscapes. The suitcase is a bold metaphor as well, connoting both the mobility of modern technology and its capacity for isolation. Can it be that the city is carried with us as we travel, insulating us from other experiences? There is a sense of fragility and impermanence here as well. You can see more of these clever and unusual Portable Cities in this lovely photoblog from Beautiful Decay.