‘I try to show the layers of time’: Watch artist Do Ho Suh draw a life-size replica of his first New York apartment
When Korean-born artist Do Ho Suh first moved to New York in 1997, he was lucky enough to discover that a friend was moving out of his apartment, leaving an opening for Suh to take over the lease. Although the landlord was initially skeptical of Suh’s ability to pay rent, the artist remained there for 18 years.
When he was finally preparing for his next chapter and leaving the apartment, Suh decided to create a piece of art that documented and preserved his memories in space.
The artist has long been making fabric works that are life-size replicas of the places where he lived. With an architect’s attention to detail and spatiality, and an artist’s interest in the psychological impact of each place he calls “home”, Suh’s works are both faithful reconstructions and personal tributes.
In an exclusive video shot as part of Art21 Art in the 21st century series, Suh explains the genesis of rub/love (2016), the work based on the artist’s apartment in New York. To make the work, the artist covered every square centimeter of the space with white paper, including shelves, doorknobs and locks. Then, with the help of studio assistants, he rubbed a colored pencil across the paper, so that every divot and crack in the structure was committed to the paper.
“The whole process is to remember the space, and also to commemorate it in some way,” Suh said. “Whoever is going to buy this place is going to renovate the space and everything is going to disappear.” The idea of moving from fabric rubs to paper rubs comes from the similarities between the Korean words for “rub” and “love”, which the artist says can be heard interchangeably because there is no distinction between the letters “r” and “l” in the Korean alphabet.
“I think the gesture of rubbing is a very affectionate gesture,” he says.
In certain areas, such as door handles and light switches, the friction is smoother because these are high-touch areas of the apartment. “JImagine how many times I flipped that switch when I lived here for 18 years,” Suh said in the video. “I try to show the layers of time.”
Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series Art in the 21st century, below.
This is an episode of “Art on Video”, a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips from artists who are making the news. A new season of the flagship series of the Art21 association Art in the 21st century is now available on PBS. Watch all episodes of other series, like New York close up and Extended gameand discover the organization’s educational programs on Art21.org.