“and none of these is wholly compassed by a certain pernicious understanding of reading as escape. Escape from what? The “real world,” ostensibly, the “responsibility” of “acting” or “performing” in that world. Yes this reading posture registers as extroversion at least as much as introversion, as public as it does private: all a reader need do to transform this “inner life” experience to audible performance is begin reading aloud.”

– Eve Sedgwick, “Shame in the Cybernetic Fold”

“that’s not home, it’s just where I live”

– Spencer Monroe, Walking Dead S6E10 “The Next World”


The distinction between public and private is moot. The proliferation of artist run gallery-apartments have given rise to private spheres opening into public displays. Social media is a landscape where individuals share the intimacies of daily life. The evolving landscape of labor reaches into all aspects of private life (e.g., being available via email during non-work hours.) These are three, amongst many, examples that defy the simple logic of a public/private divide. It is this circumstance that complicates my understanding of institutional spaces, for example, I’m never sure where to situate an organization such as the Contemporary Arts Center, especially now that it has become free to the public due to private donations. Does a free space constitute a public space? A space like the CAC seems messily involved with both spheres.

“Rubbing/Loving Project: Company Housing of Gwangju Theather”
Graphite on paper, wooden structure, video monitor and player, single-channel video projection with audio and speaker
Courtesy the Contemporary Arts Center

It may seem a stretch to begin a conversation on Do Ho Suh’s survey at the CAC with some thoughts around the binarism of public/private divide. However, much of the work on display makes a spectacle of living spaces, household objects and appliances, and the collision of houses with other forms of architecture. For example, the exhibition is dominated by Suh’s ghostly replicas of spaces and objects made from polyester and stainless steel wire. These objects, colorful and spectacular, utilize and mimic perfectly the architecture of the CAC, almost with such ease that the flexibility of his artworks and his spaces remembered seem wholly capable of fitting into Zaha Hadid’s angular and domineering architecture. Put simply, not only is Suh’s transitory life content in the work, but also the spaces he constructs are equally reactive and adaptive. Not only do the spaces and objects that Suh creates haunt him, but they are adept at haunting the CAC.

Although the exhibition is densely filled with these fabric specters (amongst video works, drawings, and his rubbing/loving project), the third floor of the exhibition is where I’d like to turn, which recenters our conversation around the dissolution of public/private. On display here are videos and models of Suh’s outdoor projects that blend his artistic investments with architectural ingenuity, urban planning, and spectacle. Moving forward, I’ll focus on two works in particular that (literally) animate a collision of traditional distinctions between private/public.

Bridging Home is a project realized for the Liverpool Biennial; it’s a traditional house found in Seoul, Korea shown crashed between two rundown industrial-looking buildings, literally showing a home that doesn’t fit in an alley. On display at the CAC is a large white model of the project, and a video documenting the difficulty of executing the project. The Korean home feels intensely awkward amongst the other buildings, not simply because it’s an aesthetic and cultural anomaly or even the fact that it’s suspended at an angle, but because its neighboring building to the left has text that ominously (and comically) reads, ‘DO YOU LIKE YOUR NEIGHBORS?’ At all registers the home doesn’t fit, operating as a home that doesn’t have a home, and as the text on the building reminds us – some neighbors may not want it there. It is displacement in every which way.

Whereas Bridging Home wants to exhibit the struggle for space, Fallen Star turns its attention to home colliding with a newer space, an engineering building at UC San Diego. Fallen Star is a replica of a romanticized, quaint cottage home that is cozily furnished (television, cabinets, rugs, etc.) Outside the perfectly blue home is a second intervention, a fully functioning garden with lawn chairs for relaxing in the backyard. Tomato plants, a plum tree, and non-indigenous species of plants populate the rooftop, a subtle experiment to see how differing organisms can grow and influence one another. The whole scene is all-to-romantic and picturesque, a doll house illusion equipped with blunt nostalgia that confidently sticks out. Like Bridging Home the CAC exhibits a film and a model, but this time the model is completed with color and piles of tiny details such as miniature chairs, a miniature quilt, etc.

“Specimen Series: Stove, Unit 2, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA”
Polyester fabric
Courtesy the Contemporary Arts Center

This third floor at the CAC exhibits the archives, planning and challenges that go into Suh’s outdoor works, which create replicas of homes that appear as perfectly modeled and flaunt their artifice. This artifice gets to the heart of Suh’s work, which places the reality of performativity into the realm of space, where everything feels as if it’s endlessly reproducible. Any sense that a private, and romanticized, space has uniqueness is thrown into question as it appears that not only is it possible to fake, but it can be faked anywhere. Another work on display, In Between Hotel, is complete with a deceivingly kitschy rug reads, “home is everywhere home is nowhere.” If we (the reader and I) can agree that the public/private divide isn’t a divide, where does home become located, and how are picturesque depictions like Suh’s to be understood? As they still feel relentlessly familiar; or put another way, why does the romantic image still hold weight? These are a few questions that come to mind upon viewing Suh’s work; put simply, where/how/can home be made when private space is diminished, and how different is that from romantic ideals.

–Zachary Rawe is an artist, writer, and curator based in Philadelphia, PA. Rawe creates anxious objects and texts invested in affective responses generated from the dissolved relationship between work and leisure. Recently, he began to track his interests on a Tumblr runonsentencereview.

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