Space and place in the work of Do Ho Suh



Do Ho Suh: Karma sculpture


Do Ho Suh working on his Rubbing/Loving project

From work on paper and video to sculpture and immersive installation, the notion of karma is the title and subject of many works by Korean artist Do Ho Suh.

At the start of 2016, I was most fortunate to visit Singapore’s STPI on the last day of the exhibition, Do Ho Suh: New works.

This visit coincided with an important turning point in thinking about my own work, and in many ways came as a revelation to me, particularly with Do Ho Suh’s focus on the concept of karma and the notion of a global citizen with a mobile home: themes of space, place, home, karma, and the connection between the individual and the group across global cultures.


Do Ho Suh: home and karma based thread drawings


Do Ho Suh: Karma thread drawing

Born in Seoul in 1962, Do Ho Suh moved from his native South Korea, to study and live in New York and Paris, before moving to London, where he is now based.

Influenced by his peripatetic existence, an enduring theme of the artist’s practice is the connection between the individual and the group across global cultures.

His own feelings of loss of personal connected space, the sense of “home” and lack of centre, is obvious in his beautifully imagined and created sculptures and installations, as well as his many works on paper and video.

Suh’s Rubbing/Loving Project, as with much of his work, deals with the notion of home and homesickness; indeed, he explicitly asks what is this very notion of home and how can a person carry their home with them.


Do Ho Suh: Rubbing/Loving project


Do Ho Suh: Rubbing/Loving project

Do Ho Suh’s works explore the myriad of feelings associated with the immigrant experience: being dislocated, attempting to understand unfamiliar surrounding striving to create a new home.

The recent Victoria Miro exhibition, Do Ho Suh: Passages, showed some of the work Suh is perhaps most famous for: his one-to-one life-scale fabric representations of his homes.

Continuing the work of his Rubbing/Loving Project, these are at once beautiful and poignant reminders of how we all carry home or homes within us, and perhaps how we would like to carry all our homes were it possible to roll or fold them to carry with us to the next place.


Do Ho Suh


Do Ho Suh: Home

The multiplicity of individuality is tested through meditative processes of repetition: whether interlinked along a lattice of fishing nets, amassed into monumental tornado-like forms, absent from ranks of empty uniforms, or present in every yearbook photo taken at the artist’s high school over 60 years, the artist uses the reproduced human figure to explore sensitively, and with spectacular formal effect, the ways in which personal space inherently extends into the collective sphere.


Do Ho Suh


Do Ho Suh: Running man

The human figure often dominates in Suh’s work: his drawings are filled with abundant references to himself and others; some are kinds of self-portraits – what he calls, “a contemplation of myself” – but he is not only looking inward at himself, but also outward: his sense of inter-connectedness with others of familial relationships in the present but also the past and future.


Do Ho Suh: Floor


Do Ho Suh: Floor detail


Do Ho Suh: Karma

Though much of Do Ho Suh’s work is autobiographical: his pieces are highly informed by his personal experiences of home and migration, and the search for anchor points; this longing for home is the core of any person’s identity.

The work of Do Hu Suh raises questions that pertain to each of us in the universal human experience.

I await the Whitechapel’s July 2017 Art Night, which features Do Ho Suh, with great anticipation.



Do Ho Suh: Karma juggler

Further reading



Mona Hatoum’s “Measures of Distance” is a reflection of our global life


Mona Hatoum

The 2016 exhibition at London’s Tate Modern of the work of Mona Hatoum surprised and intrigued me. I knew little of her work before I saw this show, yet was sure it would be interesting and thought-provoking, as her life and ideas are of interest to me in my own work.

The artist’s biography is marked by exile: Hatoum is a British artist, born in 1952 into a Palestinian family exiled in Lebanon. For over three decades she has been creating works which ask us to re-consider how we see and understand the world, and its “notions of territory, fragility, humanity, scale and power” (Smith, 2016).


Mona Hatoum: Homebound 2000


Mona Hatoum: Hot Spot 2013

To say that Hatoum’s work is “electrifying” is perhaps a bit corny, given the literally electric component of much of her work, but I think it is completely apt. Indeed the electric current ran through Mona Hatoum’s whole show at Tate Modern. Ever present, like a now distant, now nearer threat, the crackle and droning hum could be heard almost everywhere, emitted from Homebound: furniture and objects arranged behind a barrier of taut steel wire.

Produced in 2000, this domestic arrangement of tables and chairs, kitchen utensils, lights, cots, toys, a birdcage, are all wired-up so that an audible current surges round the room, with objects lit up in turn, “the aggressive sound amplified for our pleasure and disquiet. With Hatoum, the two are almost always twinned.” (Searle, 2016)


Mona Hatoum: Grater Divide 2002

Homebound is just one of several “anxious interiors” in an exhibition that shows Hatoum’s oeuvre. Her 2013 piece Hot Spot presents the entire globe as a danger zone, with the term ‘hot spot’ referring to a place of “military or civil unrest”; here red neon outlines the contours of the world’s continents, showing what Hatoum describes as a “world continually caught up in conflict and unrest”(Smith, 2016).

Much of her work is darkly disturbing when you may think it will be at first glance. The over-sized, scaled-up domestic appliances of Grater Divide and Dormiente, using items such as graters and other kitchen utensils, useful and homely at their regular size, take on sinister characters hinting at torture implements when larger than human-scale.


Mona Hatoum: Dormiente 2008



Mona Hatoum: Dormiente (detail) 2008


A key piece for me is Mona Hatoum’s film Measures of Distance. It speaks to me of the inter-connectedness of familial relationships across space and time. In the film, the artist’s mother is shown in close-up, in the intimacy of her shower. Fragments of Arabic script from their handwritten correspondence form a visual barrier over the image; like barbed wire, the script conceals and reveals the body speaking simultaneously of literal and implied closeness and distance, simultaneously expressing the painful distance of displacement and the longings for closeness that mark the artist’s experience.


Mona Hatoum: Measures of Distance 1988 (film still)

In this work I was also trying to go against the fixed identity that is usually implied in the stereotype of Arab woman as passive, mother as non-sexual being… the work is constructed visually in such a way that every frame speaks of literal closeness and implied distance.
(Quoted in Mona Hatoum 1997, p.140).


Mona Hatoum: Measures of Distance 1988 (film still)

The film graphically highlights the difficulties of communicating across the geographical divide: Hatoum’s audio track reading of the letters in both Arabic and English shows the dual identity through language that a migrant or exile experiences and takes on board:  language both expands and limits expression, here the dual language also serves to bring audiences of both languages closer together.

Exploring themes of home and displacement from the perspective of the Palestinian exile, Mona Hatoum’s works, from the last thirty years and today, continue to be relevant in this “age of migrants, curfews, identity cards, refugees, exiles, massacres, camps and fleeing civilians” (Said, 2000).

Further reading

Gallery websites featuring the artist’s work