The Perfect Home, 2002
translucent nylon and silk;
3 parts 149 x 240 x 240;
96 1/2 x 169 1/4 x 271 3/4;
96 1/2 x 66 1/4 x 488 1/4 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY
displacement, and alienation are common immigrant experiences which, while
destabilizing, offer a chance to retrace one's past: tradition, experience,
and memory. No matter the circumstance of departure from the home country
- émigré or refugee, exodus, forced diaspora, or privilege
- one is still a stranger in a foreign place, or a foreigner in strange
place, depending on who's defining whom. At the center of the transportable
and transcultural experience is the idea of home, its location in time and
space (the now/here or the then/there), its expanded or contracted boundaries,
and its newly cut territories. Just as places are never static, home and
cultural tradition are never static (although their upholders may pretend
otherwise). They change with movement of peoples from country to country.
These dislocations arouse and provoke reinvention. With The Perfect
Home, Do-Ho Suh addresses an immigrant experience - and it is by no
means a universally felt, monolithic experience - by putting home and away
on equal footing, creating a simultaneous experience. Neither is foreign
(or both are); neither is here; here is there; they exist equally.
Suh considers his transition from Korea to the United States by noting, "When I first came to the U.S., life was about survival. I wondered how I was going to place myself in this space that I didn't have any relationship to." (1) Suh's sculptural installation The Perfect Home comprises two translucent fabric houses connected by a fabric corridor. The houses are life-size replications of a part of Suh's childhood home in Seoul, Korea; his New York City apartment; and a corridor in that building. That luminous pink corridor connects the two homes to one another, suggesting a transcultural passageway. By using fabric, which can be somewhat fragile and easily shape shifted, Suh suggests that home and its essence are in fact transitory and can be likened to clothing, something with which we can re-create ourselves and that we carry with us. Production of the home becomes autobiography, écriture féminine, something confessional and ongoing. For instance, Suh's childhood home in Korea was built from timbers salvaged by his parents from a 19th-century building formerly located on the grounds of the royal palace. The king built the civilian house so that he could experience the spaces occupied by his subjects. (2) Suh's re-creations of his two homes encourage us, the general citizenry, to experience his personal spaces.
The Perfect Home sculptures are architecturally specific yet conceptually ambiguous, underlining the notion of identity, home, and rootedness as unstable, transitory, and changeable. Suh notes, "My desire to guard and carry around my very own intimate space makes me perceive space as infinitely movable. I experience space through, and as the movement of displacement. Space, for me, becomes intrinsically transportable and translatable." (3) Suh arrests time, suggesting that he can, in fact, make it transportable, like his perception of space. The fabric homes enable him to literally stand inside his Korean childhood home and perfect his passageway (who wouldn't want to traverse the filmy pink corridor?) between that one and his New York City home. Time neither expands nor contracts but stills with the precision that underlines the careful needlework and construction of these homes. Suh has created a perfect home, as he clearly states in his title, and therefore a perfect memory of home and its associations: childhood, family, past and present relationships.
Perhaps Suh's Seoul and New York City homes represent past and present as a simultaneous experience. While childhood chronologically is and emotionally should be our past, it shapes our now and future by our continuing efforts to alleviate its effects and rechart its course as the final word on who we are. Many people long to restructure its memory into something satisfactory. By making one of the ultimate transitional objects from childhood to adulthood-the perfect home-Suh also creates a perfect past that conceptually perfects the present. Experience and analysis suggest that the transition from childhood to adulthood has been narrativized and ritualized in myriad forms as a rite of passage or as a necessary process of leaving home. Leaving home is a repetition of the first journey in the "travail" of childbirth, an active and painful displacement from the safety and unfreedom of the "maternal" home to the unknown elements and horizons of the "big wide world." (4)
Suh recognizes this transition when he notes that his first days in the United States were about survival. He needed to create a space that could carry the emotional security of the childhood home into new and unsure territory. In these perfect homes Suh may not only expunge any trace of the negative, and reconstitute experience, he can also stabilize the difficult passage from then to now. Discomfiture doesn't prevent us from transcultural and transcontinental moving or seeking fresh lives in new places. We know that within the difficulties of uprootedness we also experience pleasure in the adventure. Understanding that pleasure and anxiety are often experienced concurrently, Suh accentuates and mitigates these mixed feelings within the fabric translucence of The Perfect Home, where outsider and insider, past and present, here and there are a simultaneously orchestrated experience.
|1. Katie Clifford,
"A Soldier's Story," ArtNews, January 2002, p. 103.
2. "Contemporary Korean Artist Reconstructs Spaces and Explores Identity at SAM and SAAM," Press release, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, n.d.
3. Press release, Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY, n.d.
4. Barry Curtis and Claire Pajaczkowska, "'Getting there:' travel, time and narrative," in Travellers' Tales: Narratives of Home and Displacement, ed. George Robertson et al. (London, England: Routledge, 1994), p. 200.
Special thanks to Do-Ho Suh; Jino Kwon; Juliet Gray, Lehmann Maupin; and Amy Duke.
Do-Ho Suh was an artist in residence at the Kemper Museum.