A Review of Do Ho Suh at Victoria Miro, London
Imagine if the cure for homesickness could be carried in a suitcase - that you were able to pop up a particular window pane or door knob from your childhood home or college art studio, wherever you go. For Do Ho Suh, this is near enough the objective. Set across three individual spaces, Passage/s at Victoria Miro, is the artist’s first solo exhibition in London.
Gallery II hosts the main installation: a series of re-constructed entranceways or ‘hubs’ from the buildings Suh has lived and worked in, from Seoul, Berlin, New York and London. Made from translucent polyester fabric in electric colours, it simply glows, responding to the pools of natural light that flood the gallery from the ceiling. This is on purpose of course: instead of placing the hubs chronologically, Suh has sensitively created his installation, which takes up the entirety of the 25 meter-long space, so that it responds to the gallery’s architectural interventions.
Every switch, fire hydrant and plug socket has been meticulously stitched: their forms are three-dimensional and yet the thread-outlines suggest they are closer to a tangible drawing than sculpture. Against the fabric backdrop, each fixture becomes more recognisable and therefore, slightly curious: a random hook placed far above a door or locks with archaic looking mechanisms. Exposed piping or fire regulation panels - mundane objects often considered aesthetically hideous and unsightly – are transformed into beautiful, intriguing objects.
It feels almost intrusive to walk through these corridors – a mental and psychological journey into Suh’s personal spaces of past and present. These spaces have been emulated so perfectly that it is impossible not to envision what these buildings are actually made of or at what point in his life Suh passed through them. The mint-green hub, a reproduced entrance from Seoul, is simply breath taking - a tiny oblong space with an undulating corrugated roof. The elaborate geometric cross-hatching on the shutters and doors instantly evoke the vernacular houses of South Korea. Through architecture, Suh represents the rich histories and cultural practices within each city, whilst remaining mysterious about what these are and how they have affected him specifically.
Suh’s thoughtful observations are further explored in his Exit series, upstairs in Gallery 1. After the artist re-located from New York to London, he re-created the switches, doorknobs and plug sockets that belonged to his New York residence in white polyester and separated them by theme into light boxes. Through his presentation of household fixtures, Suh highlights that his memories of his former apartment cannot be disentangled from the materiality of the places within which they were made.
Downstairs, the gallery presents new work by the artist: a series of ‘thread drawings’ of entrances and staircases in Suh’s signature vibrant colour palette but on gelatine tissue instead of polyester. The artist has used his re-constructed rooms and flattened them by sewing reproductions onto sheets of paper and immersing them in water. The gelatin dissolves, exposing only the skeletal framework of the buildings.
Passage/s: The Pram Project is perhaps the most revealing work in the exhibition. For the film, Suh has attached 3 GoPro video cameras onto a buggy, allowing for multiple peripheral viewpoints. The touching conversations between Suh and his daughters feed into their excursions within London and Seoul, through parks, museum campuses and down cobbled alleys framed by the familiar red-brick London town-houses typically found in the North of the city. Suh allows the audience to see through his eyes: an insight into the pathways the artist chooses on a daily basis.
The film triggers the significance of the S that follows the forward slash in the exhibition title. It would be too easy to assume that it denotes the many literal passageways displayed within the installation. Instead, it further emphasises the metaphorical transitions the word passage also refers to - of moving from one phase of life to another. Suh records these milestones: family, travel and art college by filtering them through re-productions of the built environment.
It is not unusual for a successful artist to have lived or worked within some of the world’s major cities but this is why Suh’s focus on displacement and transience relates to so many, whether artist or not. Suh understands that architecture is the context through which we are most understood. Where we live and how we choose to settle is all part of a human purpose, to find that sense of belonging and hang onto it.
Written by Wilhemina Madeley, a Contributor to Arteviste.