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Korean sculptor and installation artist Do Ho Suh takes his home with him wherever he goes.
In Suh’s case, that “home” consists of full-size and scale replicas of his past abodes, which he constructs in art galleries around the world. The replicated spaces are created of translucent, monochrome polyester sewn onto thin steel frames and they offer both the artist and viewers an interpretation of Suh’s past apartments and homes.
A new installation of the Suh’s work, Do Ho Suh, opened Feb. 10 at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
The multi-gallery display offers viewers a mesmerizing look inside the artist’s psyche, as well as a chance to walk through a full-sized replica of his New York City apartment.
The exhibit also features a replica of the Seoul native’s ancestral Korean home, as well as drawings and a documentary film.
“The exhibition is organized around the theme of the perfect home, which I have been seeking ever since I moved to the U.S. from Korea,” Suh says. “I try to understand the meaning of ‘home’ from my art. I am still looking for the answer to that question, so please don’t ask what that means.”
Suh, who has residences in New York, London and Seoul, moved to the United States in 1991 to attend the Rhode Island School of Design. He eventually graduated with a master’s degree in fine arts from Yale University. The son of an artist specializing in traditional Korean painting, Suh began rendering domestic structures in 1994 — an artistic impulse to preserve what he has lost that has become his life’s work.
The contents of his polyester apartment rendering are astounding in the detail. Knobs and dials have numbers painted on them, while open fuse boxes hang from the wall just inside the doorframes. Bathroom fixtures come complete with renderings of their plumbing components right down to the flush mechanism located inside the toilet tanks. The window air conditioner’s power cord even has the Underwriters Laboratory approval tags on it.
The materials comprising the apartment replica shimmer slightly as you walk by, providing what Suh says is a living quality to the sculpture.
“My practice is a paradox,” Suh says. “On one hand, I want to preserve my memories of the space, but at the same time it was a kind of coping method to come to terms with my move and in letting things go.”
Suh’s process is rather arduous and begins with tracing the space that he’s going to render in polyester, then supervising a crew that sews the fabric to become the artwork.
He learned his sewing technique from a group of elderly Korean women who practice an ancient style of sewing used to make traditional Korean costumes and apparel. During the early processes, he used “frog buttons” — an ornate style of closures — in the manufacture of his pieces. These days he simply uses Velcro strips.
Despite having a permanent home with his wife and children in London, Suh says he is likely to continue his work recreating his past homes. It’s a form of therapy for him and a ritual part of the leaving process each time he moves.
“But I have to wait until I really feel the need to do it,” Suh says. “I never knew I would move around this much, so all the works I have made come about as my life changed.”
The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibition Do Ho Suh runs through May 14 in the museum’s main galleries at 227 State St. The exhibition is free and open to the public. Call 608-257-0158 for details and hours of operation. And for more information, go online to mmoca.org.