Interview with Do Ho Suh

"AOT: You’ve already spoken to the question “why Kanazawa?” but, outside of the museum, is there anything else about the city that has caught your interest?

DHS: I’ve actually been to Kanazawa many times since 2004, and each time I come, I like it even more. The food….well, you know. The food is just incredible!

AOT: I wonder if Akimoto-san [director of the museum] has spoken to you about his passion for thekôgei mirai movement? Do you think it plays any role in your own work?

DHS: Yes, he was telling me all about it last night, and about the recent exhibition. The whole topic of traditional crafts and their place in today’s art world is important, and I’m glad he’s addressing it. In my work, yes, especially the fabric pieces. The techniques for stitching primarily come from traditional dressmaking and were taught to me and my assistants by older Korean seamstresses. Some of the pieces are very complex, and I would not have achieved the effects I wanted without their knowledge and willingness to share with me.

AOT: How much does the location of an exhibition influence your work? In other words, which comes first, the invitation to exhibit or the creation of a piece?

DHS: Interesting question. The truth is, it’s both. Inside my head I have this sort of Ferris wheel of ideas, just constantly turning. Then, when the opportunity to exhibit comes along, my mind spins through all the ideas until it finds the right one for that particular space. I know within seconds when a pace is ideal for either one of my existing works or for one of the ideas not yet realized. The 21st Century Museum is a perfect example. I saw it in 2004 and knew one day I wanted to have a show there. And in fact, the height of the ceilings made it possible for me to add a couple of floors to the NYC studio piece that had not previously been shown.

AOT: How about inspiration? Would you say your work is more internally or externally inspired?

DHS: This touches on my last answer, and the idea of the Ferris wheel. I’m kind of a slow-starter, so it can take years for ideas to get processed and manifest themselves in my work. Then I might take abstract aspects of several different events and pull them together in a way that may obscure their origin, yet still give the work power or substance. Growing up in Seoul in the ’70s and ’80s during very politically-charged times definitely left an impression, yet those times are only subtly represented in my work.

AOT: Is there anywhere in the world you’ve not yet been but where you’d like to work?

DHS: I have only been to Brazil in South America, so I would like to spend more time down there. I’m particularly interested in Patagonia and parts of Chile. Basically, places where Koreans have settled over time. It’s a continuation of the trail that lead across the Bering Land Bridge, down through Alaska and Canada, the Western US; all along that route, it’s possible to find people with the Mongolian Blue Spot—that blue smudge at the base of the spine that’s seen on most Asians, many Native Americans, and well over half the Hispanic population. I’ve had this dream where I’m holding a map in my hands, except it’s not a usual map—it’s curved, and the tip of South America occupies the center, and Korea is not far off. So maybe, I need to pursue this idea.

AOT: Most of your projects are on a large scale, requiring many materials and many hands to put everything together. If for some reason you found yourself in a limited budget situation, how would that affect your work?

DHS: Ha! It would be like being a student again, or a young artist, just starting out. And I think even back then, I had many interesting and pretty cool ideas, so probably, that wouldn’t change. There are times I think it would be nice to work at that level again, just me, alone in a small studio, making my maquettes and drawings, relying on modest materials.

AOT: Have you ever done a collaboration project with other artists?

DHS: Well, in a way, because of the scale, most of my projects are collaborations in some sense. Architects, engineers, carpenters, seamstresses—but in terms of your question, although I am open to it, it hasn’t really worked out yet. Artists are sensitive creatures and it’s not always easy to find the balance.

AOT: What about other genres, like writers, musicians…?

DHS: Ah! Yes, actually, I recently did collaborate with a choreographer and it was really successful. You can see some if it in the video documentary showing as part of this exhibit. I’d love to work with a musician some time if the opportunity presented itself.

AOT: You now divide your time between Seoul, New York, and London. How do these different environments affect your work?

DHS: Actually, I’m mainly based in London now, as that’s where my wife’s from, and we have a 22-month-old daughter. I like London, except for the lousy weather, and am noticing some similarities between the English and the Japanese. Certain values, and a certain reserve. Maybe it’s the small island thing they share.

AOT: Of the works in this exhibition, I was especially taken with The Gate [in which images of Suh’s childhood home and surrounding nature are projected onto a massive screen hung across the middle of a large empty room], and couldn’t help thinking of Alfred Hitchcock at the end, with all the crows. Was that a conscience influence?

DHS: Oh yes! Of course, it had to be, didn’t it! But I’ve used the motif of the blackbird in other works. It’s important in Korean art.

AOT: And in Native Alaskan tribal art as well—along the route of the Korean diaspora.

DHS: Right, that’s true. There are a number of shared symbols and motifs along that route.

AOT: It seems we’re out of time, so just one last thing. I read in an earlier interview you gave that in your spare time, you like to read about fish?

DHS: Yes! Maybe you know my first love was marine biology, and while I obviously took a different path, I still love to read about fish and marine life.

AOT: I can understand that; after living in Alaska for 14 years, I’ve grown very interested in fish myself. I’m in the middle of a great fish book now: Four Fish by Paul Greenberg. It’s all about salmon, cod, tuna, and bass.

DHS: Four Fish? Okay, I’ll look for it. Thanks!

AOT: Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your time here in Kanazawa."


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