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Korean artist Do Ho Suh's 'Artland' gives new meaning to the term child's play

Artland at SeMA Seoul brings together a new world with imaginary flora and fauna, for younger audiences to build upon, in a refreshingly playful take on participatory art.

by Sukanya DebPublished on : Feb 08, 2023

Known for his sculptures and large-scale installations, Korean artist Do Ho Suh presents a new exhibition Artland at SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art. What is unique about this exhibition, is that it was developed with his children, whom he credits as being the artists for the sculptural art installations, besides inviting participation from visiting children, young people and families. 

Close view of Artland installation | Artland | Do Ho Suh and Children | STIRworld
Close view of Artland installation Image: Courtesy of Prudence Cumings Associates, Aami Suh, Omi Suh and Do Ho Suh, SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art

Around seven years ago, Do Ho Suh began working on Artland with his family when his oldest daughter was around three-years-old. The project emerged from their conversations and play as they made buildings and other settings using clay. As told by the artist, the older daughter herself came up with the name 'Artland', upon being asked what she was building. A collaborative project between the two daughters and Suh himself - Artland imagines lifeforms through fantastical flora and fauna that emerge from their collective imagination.

With a particularly community-focused outlook that assimilates the museum into the larger locality of the Korean capital city, SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art was founded in 2013 in central Seoul, with a vision for involving children and adults alike in their conception of art. The museum has a Children’s Gallery in the north-eastern part of the city, that hosts regular programmes and exhibitions keeping local children in mind, where they invite leading contemporary artists to re-envision their works within the context of a young populace that is curious, respondent, and always learning.

Portrait of Artist Do Ho Suh | Artland | Do Ho Suh and Children | STIRworld
Portrait of Artist Do Ho Suh Image: Daniel Dorsa; Courtesy of SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art

The curator of the exhibition, Jaeim Joung, tells STIR, “Even when compared with Buk-Seoul Museum of Art’s earlier efforts to support active community engagement, Artland has proved to be a groundbreaking art exhibition. Until recently, in its exhibitions focused [towards younger visitors], the museum has run interactive programs such as creating workbooks to encourage activities in that space. Artland is the first project of the museum to include interactive activities in the main exhibition hall and present them as the most important feature of the works on display. The work itself is a collaboration, it is not just a supplementary part of the project.”

Installation view from the exhibition | Artland | Do Ho Suh and Children | STIRworld
Installation view from the exhibition Image: Courtesy of Prudence Cumings Associates, Aami Suh, Omi Suh and Do Ho Suh, SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art

As the authorship of the artwork moves between Suh to his children, to other children and back to the artist, as the cycle continues, there is a destabilisation of relations in what one generally considers the work of art. The work is realised through the idea of extensions and additions, towards a sense of plentifulness. The work is activated by its young audience, as endless additions can be made to the colourful clay models and creatures that emerge from the imagination, allowing for play.

Play can be seen as quite an alien concept in the contemporary art world, where even participatory art only seeks to be activated along a set of instructional, and therefore uni-directional bases. The curator of the exhibition tells STIR, “I don’t place the Artland project in the realm of purely participatory art as it provides artistic value to the raw and pure beauty of children’s creativity, and the participants are not limited to making a given character, but are allowed to create their own unique creatures and furthermore to craft their own storylines. In that sense, the collaborative process changes the process of making art. As an artist of collaborative work, the participants have both freedoms from the conventions of art, but they can also compose in a sufficiently similar and harmonious manner with art forms that have come before.”

Children's modelling clay sculpture at the exhibition| Artland | Do Ho Suh and Children | STIRworld
Children's modelling clay sculpture at the exhibition Image: Courtesy of Prudence Cumings Associates, Aami Suh, Omi Suh and Do Ho Suh, SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art

Speaking to the imagined biodiversity that exists in Artland, Joung tells STIR about plants, animals, and even hybrid creatures that are significant to the ecosystem. For example, the Noodlegrass is similar to the Venus Flytrap, being a poisonous plant that grows to be coiled up in the ground. The Slimes are said to have the largest population. Colourful Bobbygongs are the fungi of this world that vary between being the size of a thumbnail and a live human adult. Spocky Trees and Toilet Trees are other organisms that have narratives within this imaginary world. As can be seen with these storylines that are developed by Suh's own children in a relayed conversation with other children who are visiting and adding to the narratives and creatures, one can take notice of the fact that the imaginary world allows them to take on a different kind of expression, one that reflects their own interactions with the natural world, and what they learn as emotional beings in their everyday lives. There are instances within the developed storylines that speak to ecological anxieties, with the introduction of fluid-sapping poisons, toxic or radioactive matter and so on.

Young artist with modeling clay as part of Artland | Artland | Do Ho Suh and Children | STIRworld
Young artist with modelling clay as part of Artland Image: Yohan Choi; Courtesy of Prudence Cumings Associates, Aami Suh, Omi Suh and Do Ho Suh, SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art

In conversation with STIR, Joung reflects on the nature of the exhibition and how it might be pedagogical in strategy while emphasising that rather than being purely educational, the space of the museum becomes activated to the creative impulses of the young audience it ushers in. As she goes on to say, “Artland embraces every participant as an artist. That is to say, the audience and members of society are stakeholders in the project; each has a certain influence, direct or indirect, over the problem-solving process that the artist intended.”

Young artist with modeling clay | Artland | Do Ho Suh and Children | STIRworld
Young artist with modelling clay Image: Yohan Choi; Courtesy of Prudence Cumings Associates, Aami Suh, Omi Suh and Do Ho Suh, SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art

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