Do Ho Suh’s ‘Passage/s’ is a timely look at what it means to feel at home in a globalized world. The exhibition’s three sections are reached by making your own patient passage up steep staircases and through the garden at Victoria Miro’s Wharf Road space. In each, different media – thread drawings, photographic blueprints, polyester fabric installations and video installations – have been used to reproduce the mundane objects and experiences that form the backdrop to modern life. Included amongst these are replica doors and entranceways, lightbulbs, plugs and toilet seats from the many places Suh has called home (London, New York, Berlin, Providence and his hometown of Seoul). Each is named after its address of origin, listed like a serial number.
Suh’s nine ‘Hubs’ (2015–16), on the upper floor of Gallery II, are one-to-one reproductions of these apartments’ transient spaces: doors and passages between rooms. Made of delicately stitched-together pieces of translucent coloured polyester supported by sturdy stainless-steel pipes, they lead onto one another, stretching across the space like a long corridor of contradictions. On the one hand, they look like a piece of playground equipment, although even as you scuttle between the forms, you are never fully immersed in play. On the other hand, these interiors, though exquisitely detailed, have lost their practical function – door hinges are unbending, power sockets are powerless.
The ‘Hubs’ question what it means to belong somewhere. A ‘home’ must have a physical structure (doorframes, handles, walls), but our experience of belonging has an emotional structure, too. The ‘Hubs’ allow us to position ourselves on the threshold between ‘private’ and ‘public’ life or between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ status. These delicate structures capture the loneliness of the transient ‘global citizen’ and of the uprooted immigrant, while simultaneously evoking the comfort of familiar settings.
Once on this threshold, we can be tourists in Suh’s life. Exit Series (2016) parodies the readymade by dextrously reproducing plug-sockets, entry buzzers and even a gas inspection certificate in stainless-steel wire, making us look anew at things we might not usually notice. The thread drawings on the lower floor of the gallery are like cryosections of the ‘Hubs’. Made of sewn gelatin tissue dissolved in water, these two-dimensional cross sections of congealed thread and paper are like fossilized memories of entranceways and a New York staircase.
The show also contains three video works, of which the massive three-channel Passage/s: The Pram Project (2015–16) is the most touching. On another screen, My Home/s (2014–16) pans vertically and horizontally between rooms of fastidiously arranged things – computers, office and kitchen equipment, a recurring statuette of the Virgin Mary – as if they were a part of one apartment block, while Passages (2015–16) takes us on a journey down an infinite corridor.
The Pram Project is a portrait of the artist as a middle-aged father of two. A charming view of the streets of Islington and Seoul filmed on three GoPro cameras from the perspective of his daughters’ pram, the piece captures the sounds of the children’s babbling and singing and Suh’s gentle responses.
Suh’s interest in textures (the frailty of the fabric, the delicate stitching) might seem like an apolitical celebration of surfaces, but ‘Passage/s’ is a bracing riposte to the idea that the ‘rootless cosmopolitan’ is the enemy of the people. It celebrates change, travel and the free-play of cultures and languages, questioning not merely what it means to have roots, but what it means to be able to grow new ones.
First published in Issue 186