Artist Do Ho Suh’s houses of memory. By Julie L Belcove
The Korean constructs ghostly sculptures that explore ideas about home and displacement
From the outside, 348 West 22nd Street looks like any other well-appointed, 19th-century brownstone in New York’s Chelsea neighbourhood. But when Do Ho Suh answers the bell on a chilly autumn day, he opens the door to an interior that is nothing short of magical. From his tiny garden-level apartment, which the Korean-born artist has rented since moving to the city in 1997, to the three upper floors where his friendly landlords, Arthur and Dee, lived and practised psychotherapy, he has covered virtually every surface — walls, floors, air conditioners, mantles, doorknobs, railings, sinks, bathtubs and toilets — with paper and gingerly rubbed every inch with coloured pencils and pastels.
The effect is like stepping into a drawing or being engulfed in a three-dimensional dreamscape. Suh, 54, has meticulously captured the textures of his subjects: the grain of wood, the grout between tiles, the subtle bumps on painted walls. More than a documentation of the banal, the laborious, months-long “Rubbing/Loving Project” has been an act of devotion, a way for Suh to preserve his memories: Arthur and Dee are now dead, their children are selling the house and, after nearly 20 years there, Suh is leaving.
“The process has been so intense, both physically and emotionally,” he says. “I don’t know why I had to set this thing up to torture myself, but it was very much about the process.”
While an estate agent waits in the living room to show the house to a potential buyer, Suh’s team carefully detaches yards and yards of paper, coded for reassembly in any possible future exhibition. “I love the fact when the paper’s removed, it takes some of the dirt from the wall,” he says, “so it’s physically taking part of the house.”
Image: Do Ho Suh at the New York apartment he has lived in for 20 years; every surface is covered in paper as part of his work 'Rubbing/Loving Project: 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011 (Unit 2)' (2015-2016) © Stefan Ruiz