Artist Do Ho Suh's current exhibition in Korea is making headlines for his site specific installation, Home Within Home Within Home Within Home Within Home (2013). Suh is a recipient of Ho-Am Prize, which is Korea’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
The exhibition has been cited as his largest ever, which also inaugurates the new National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Seoul. Chuyoung Lee, Associate Curator at MMCA, characterises Suh's view of a home 'as one's intimate, clothing (skin)-like space', even if Suh has long since shed that skin.
Suh’s work is a conceptual structure and folds several locations and cultures one into the other. For not only does the diaphanous tent-like structure represent all the places that Suh has lived, it is also within the memorialising space of a museum.
The inner sanctum of this massive and translucent installation artwork is a traditional Korean home, built in the style which was predominant in that country prior to the 20th century, and its shell is a western-style house, which bears some Victorian elements. This work is comprised of a life-size (12 meters in height, 15 meters in width) replica of the three-storey town house at Providence, Rhode Island, which was the artist’s first residence where he lived as a student in the United States in 1991 and ‘Seoul Home,’ a reproduction of his family’s traditional-style Korean house in Seoul, hanging in the middle of the former.
“This huge fabric installation of Do Ho Suh, entitled Home Within Home Within Home Within Home Within Home is specially created to epitomise the vital spatial property of Seoul Box that can be undeniably characterised by its abundant natural light coming through its glass walls and the historical attribute of the Seoul branch’s compound in which traditional, modern and contemporary buildings embrace each other,” writes Lee.
This can mean many things to different people, but it seems to represent the dual cultural identity of a migrant individual, who on the outside may show signs of cultural assimilation, but whose heart and soul remains encoded with the traditions and values that were learned in their place of origin. While home for the immigrant becomes a space that they carry within themselves, we long to externalise it, manifest it in our physical surroundings, with objects, belongings and ideas that represent the ‘hometown’. Suh presents the viewer with a physical manifestation that is both a physical and a luminal space.
The artwork raises many questions, and captures the fractal nature of individual or cultural identity – the work contains the spectator, who is a living component of the chain of containers that run on ad infinitum from the physical world as we know it, towards the vast reaches of the cosmos, and inwards into the quantum realm. The work also helps deconstruct the expression ‘blueprint’, as it is used to signify the architectural plans for a building or structure which has been broken down or designed using either hand-drawings or computer software for architecture.
Suh was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1962 and his father is a famous artist in his own right. Suh Se-Ok led a 1960s art movement to combine traditional ink paintings with new meanings and concepts from the abstract art movement that was happening in the West. The younger Suh went to do his Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts from Seoul National University in Oriental Painting. He also studied at Rhode Island School of Design, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting in 1994. Then, in 1997, he received a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from Yale University.
Initially, Do Ho Suh had to struggle, to come out from under his father’s shadow, and ironically it was only once he moved to New York City that he began to come into his own. "I felt relieved when I went to the States, I felt much more freedom, " he was quoted as saying. It allowed him to make his own work and not be compared to his father. Living between London, New York and Seoul, Suh carved out his own niche, and in 2001, he represented Korea at the 49th Venice Biennale.
Now with this award secured under his belt, Suh can be rest assured that he has made his own mark and will be remembered as one of the significant artists from Korea.