World of Interiors

In the House With Do-Ho Suh

Suh has also created a whole body of work that appears to comment on individuality versus collectivity. In Floor, gallerygoers walk across a grid of 40 glass plates supported by more than 180,000 plastic human figures about two inches high, cast from six different molds representing different races and both sexes. Who Am We? (in the Korean language, there's no distinction between singular and plural) appears to be wallpaper covered with benday dots, but on looking closer, one sees that the dots are thousands of tiny faces taken from Suh's high school yearbooks, each about one-eighth of an inch high. High School Uni-Form, modeled on the uniform jacket Suh himself had to wear, consists of a whole troop of 300 such jackets, each row sewn together shoulder to shoulder. Some/One is an armored garment made from thousands of dog tags that fan out to become the work's built-in pedestal.

"All those works result from contemplating the notion of personal space," Suh declares. "It has a political side to it, but that's on the surface. I'm not making any statement in my work."

A custom-made costume for the space: the artist in The Perfect Home II
photo: Robin Holland
A custom-made costume for the space: the artist in The Perfect Home II

He says that ideally he would have made 180,000 different molds for Floor. Both this piece and the dotted wallpaper are more an indictment of the spectator than any dictator, since it's up to the viewer to notice that these are all individuals. "The word 'anonymity' should not exist," says Suh. As for the high school uniform, he notes that some Koreans regard it with nostalgia while others find it disturbing. It was forced on them during the Japanese occupation, but the style is taken from the British or German military. When the government discontinued the uniform in 1983, both parents and teachers protested. "It became totally internalized, and that fascinates me."

"My question was, how much space does one need to be an individual? What if we take away the space between people? Then how do you define the individual versus the collective? That's how I started. If the space between uniforms is gone, the individual disappears into this huge mass, but also feels protected."

The first sculpture Suh ever created was a jacket made of dog tags, and Some/One just expands on that. "I see clothing as the smallest, most intimate habitat that one person can carry. And when you expand that idea, it becomes architecture." So far, he has made rigid clothing and soft architecture. Open like a robe in front, Some/One is large enough to suggest that a viewer might crawl inside. Suh lined the interior with a mirror. He says Westerners tend to see the piece as armor, while Asians see it as a kimono.

Currently preparing for his first solo show in Korea, Suh decided to add two new pieces. Paratrooper is a 15-inch statue of a soldier gathering his parachute, which is represented by fabric on the wall. Four thousand signatures collected by the artist are embroidered on that cloth and connected to the trooper by 4,000 threads. The other new piece consists of two huge feet walking in businessmen's shoes and supported by small running figures both under each shoe and in its shadow. "They could be us," says Suh. "Or they could be people who are so crucial to our existence in this world, whom we are not aware of."

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