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Suh Do-ho in Psycho Buildings

Suh Do-hoPsycho Buildings is a cosmopolitan collaboration in which artists from as far afield as Tokyo and Cuba “take on” architecture. Suh Do-ho (right) is one of the diaspora of Korean artists working in various countries around the world. Like Baik Nam June, Suh has chosen to make his home in America.

Suh’s work has in the past explored aspects of identity, from his Some / one sculpture of a warrior crafted out of US military dog-tags, to his floor made of tiny figures holding up a sheet of glass. In another group of installations, his trademark is the recreation of interiors and exteriors of domestic spaces by carefully hanging sheets of diaphanous silk or nylon. He has created both western and Korean domestic spaces, inviting the viewer to enter and explore their own reaction to the architecture.

When entering the Psycho Buildings exhibition the first room is filled with nylon gauze creating an architectural space. The shapes are organic – walking into the main womb-like room the viewer encounters giant distended scrotums filled with spices. This however is not Suh Do-ho exploring curves: it’s a psycho construction, enigmatically titled Life Fog Frog … Fog Frog created by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto. One has to wait till the top floor of the exhibition to see Suh’s more familiar style, with the installation Staircase V.

On the way out of the Hayward, one passes through one of Rachael Whiteread’s more approachable works, Place: gone are the grey monoliths of concrete moulding domestic architecture like a three dimensional photographic negative, or archive boxes filled with plaster: instead, a darkened room containing a carefully laid out shanty-town of dolls houses filled with tiny lights.

Suh Do-ho: Staircase

If Whiteread’s work in the show is more human than her previous offerings, Suh’s work in this upstars feels more Whiteread-like than his previous work. The walls and floor of the room are perfectly empty. Suspended from a ceiling of red nylon is the outside of a staircase. Those who have lived in a Victorian house will be immediately familiar with the shapes involved. The details of the room itself are left to the imagination. Instead Suh concentrates on the negative space, the way the storey above impinges on the room we are in. But through the semi-transparent walls of the stairwell we can see details like a light switch or the banisters on the floor above.

It is worth quoting a passage from the documentation accompanying the exhibition, as it casts light on many aspects of Suh’s work:

What I found interesting in Western architecture was the distinct separation between nature and the artificial space: there’s a wall. You create a space totally separate from the outside. In the Korean house where I used to live, there are not many walls. It’s all windows and doors – and the material of the windows and doors is all semi-transparent rice paper, so there’s a sense that architecture is very porous. There’s a sense of permeability, versus opaqueness.

Suh Do-ho: Fallen Star

But the most striking installation in the exhibition is Suh’s more solid work. We are very used to talk of diaspora artists exploring the interaction of their native and adoptive cultures and identities. Suh’s Fallen Star 1/5 explores culture clash in a very literal way. The hanok he grew up in has been whisked from Korea to Providence, Rhode Island by a whirlwind and has collided with the brownstone building which was Suh’s first home in America. In exact 1:5 scale detail the effect of the impact is described: rubble on the floor, chaos in the individual rooms.

Suh Do-ho: Fallen Star

On the way out from the exhibition, there’s a dramatic installation created by the Cuban artists Los Carpinteros, showing a freeze-frame impact of a sudden disaster on a Show Room. Pieces of masonry are suspended in mid-air by nylon fishing line. The cause of the disaster is unknown, but the viewer is in the middle of it. In Suh’s installation, the calamity has already happened, and the rubble is on the floor. It’s puzzling that he sees the coming together of his Korean past and American present as so destructive. Paradoxically, however, he intends to pursue this idea further: subject to funding (and presumably, a suitable space), he aims to create a full-scale, 1:1 version of this work.

Psycho Buildings continues at the Hayward Gallery until 25 August. The above artwork images were kindly provided by the Hayward Gallery. The thumbnail of Suh Do-ho himself is from Designboom. Credits:

  • Suh Do Ho: Fallen Star 1/5, 2008
    ABS, basswood, beech, ceramic, enamel paint, glass, honeycomb board, laquer paint, latex paint, LED lights, pinewood, plywood, resin, spruce, styrene, polycarbonate sheets, PVC sheets
    Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York
    Photo: © Stephen White
  • Suh Do Ho: Staircase – V, 2003/04/08
    Polyester and stainless steel tubes
    Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York
    Photo: © Stephen White

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