Interview: Korean artist Do Ho Suh on the meaning of home and his fish obsession
48 HOURS: You're best known for your translucent fabric sculptures, which are modelled after the buildings of your former homes and household items inside them. Do you feel sad when you part with these works?
DO HO SUH: That kind of separation anxiety happens all the time, but it happens less and less. Maybe I feel that for a second, but I know that somebody is going to appreciate the work — especially if it goes into a museum. Also, with few exceptions, the objects [replicated in my works] are not something unique. It's something mass-produced and you can easily find in any cheap New York apartment, for example.
Maybe you shouldn't put it like that - wouldn't it take away the aura of the work a little bit?
[ Laughs] That's true, but for many people you live in a place where a lot of people have lived, unless you built your own house. Those objects and spaces are very personal because I lived there, but there were many people who lived there before. So there's a personal attachment, but also the general public could associate with the objects one way or the other.
Are you more inclined to remember the spaces you stayed in because of your art?
My work has always evolved around my personal experience with the spaces that I lived in. Lately, places or buildings with historical significance — or interesting to me — have been coming into my work, and that's new to me. But generally, it takes a while for me to do that.
Would you say you're a nostalgic person prone to homesickness?
I get that question quite a lot. Because travelling is much easier than 20 or 30 years ago, my lifestyle allows me to travel to many different places, including my home in South Korea.
Are you splitting your time between London, New York and Seoul nowadays?
Yeah, but I'm spending most of my time in London. Now that I have a home there, it's quite different. The definition or meaning of home has been changed, so I don't know where my work is going to go from this point. It's to do with my constant travelling and moving; I feel probably less rooted in one place.
So do you sleep well in hotels?
I would say, relatively, yes. As I get older, it's getting more and more difficult to deal with jetlag. The thing is, I cannot really recover from previous trips before I have to go somewhere else, so there's always this sort of accumulation of fatigue from travelling. But even on the plane I sleep relatively well, thank goodness.
I read somewhere that you're obsessed with fish. Is that true?
I used to be, because I wanted to study fish. If I hadn't become an artist, I'd probably become a marine biologist. I was quite interested in the similarities and differences of certain species, because they just look the same but have different names. Maybe it was a kind of training or exercise for me to see the very subtle differences that nobody else would pay attention to.
Do you derive satisfaction from being able to spot the differences in fish?
Yes, I think that was probably part of it when I was little. But the attention to detail in my art-making is in a way also related to my obsession with fish, I guess. Remotely there's a connection, but I'm not sure whether I can take the fish as a subject matter for my work — yet.
I don't know if anyone has pointed this out before, but when the viewer goes into your blue life-sized home installation, it feels as if he's a fish going into a water tank.
[Laughs] Right, and it's transparent and you can actually see through things. That's very interesting — I'd never thought about it. [Pauses] Yeah, you should write that. You never know how the inner mind works.