Displaced identity is artist’s obsessionThere is something irresistibly poignant about the art of Suh Do-ho. It stems from his ability to express complex ideas about alienation and dislocation through the medium of rich physical metaphors.
That’s an unusual talent for an artist who majored in “oriental paintings,” a genre typically noted for its sparse, literal representations.
Perhaps the titles of his works have something to do with it as well.
For example, he depicted his experience of displacement through migration in an installation titled “Paratrooper,” with each thread of a parachute connected to a thin layer of fabric inscribed with the names of the friends, family and acquaintances he left behind in Korea.
Irony is Suh’s other talent. It’s amusing to discover ways in which his visual images play with their underlying meanings to ultimately contradict each other.
In his “Doormat” series, he captured the tension between conformity and personal freedom by using a mass of small, plastic figures in glowing pink and green to shape words like “go away” or “leave me alone.”
In “Some/One” he built an extravagant traditional suit of armour from thousands of nickel dog tags.
The conceptual background to his work is the idea of displacement, whether it’s the physical displacement derived from his experience of moving to New York or the psychological displacement of a free individual trying to find a place in a society bound by rules.
In his latest exhibition, “Speculation Project” at Gallery Sun Contemporary, he tries to stretch the idea of cultural migration by creating a fictional scenario titled the “Wind of Destiny.”
The piece is almost like a diary, and it begins with the artist’s house from his childhood based in Seoul, a traditional hanok, landing on the other side of the planet after being carried there by a whirlwind. In the gallery Suh shows two architectural models; one his old house in Seoul blown by a whirlwind and the other his apartment in New York into which his old house has smashed.
In the second model the artist and his assistants in the gallery raise broken pillars of the crashed house; rebuilding walls and flattening the floors of his new home as a gesture of cultural adjustment.
Separately Suh also presents “Uni-form: Self Portrait My 39 Years” on the first floor, which shows a display of different uniforms the artist has worn from kindergarten to his years in the military. The piece is designed to ask questions about the role of individual identity, especially among male Koreans, in a collective society. Like all his work, the artist uses the uniforms to reconstruct his personal history, similar to the way he uses a parachute, a house or a doormat to increase the strength of his own identity.
“Speculation Project” runs at Gallery Sun Contemporary through Nov. 25. For more information call (02) 720-5789.
by Park Soo-mee