The allure of architecture lies not only in the pragmatic need for commercial or living space. Rather, it is a process indelibly intertwined with the unique needs and tastes of each user. On the most fundamental of levels, architecture is an expression of both individual and collective identity. It allows for us to live and work in a particular manner, while simultaneously defining how we interact with (and within) the space.
This association between architecture and selfhood underlies much of Do-Ho Suh’s work. However, with strong ties to two disparate cultures, the artist’s investigation of identity becomes much more involved. Constantly travelling between South Korea and the United States, Suh conflates his dual identity through his “Home Within Home” sculpture, wherein he combines architectural details of his family home in Seoul with those of his residence in Rhode Island.
Standing before the piece, the viewer is confronted by a beautiful, but ultimately sterile structure. There are no traces of adornment or individuality within the space. Though this absence of character may serve as an invitation to the viewer to project his or her own experiences onto the work, it is plausible that the restraint behind “Home Within Home” offers more than an interactive game of dollhouse. Rather, drawing on architecture’s indelible link to individuality, Suh’s sculpture is metaphorical construct of conflicting identities.
This striking combination of distinct selfhoods begs the question as to whether such a fusion is compatible, grotesque, or both. While there is a harmony within the piece, the merger is nonetheless charged with a certain baggage. In order to form a single entity, both homes underwent a process of modification, distortion, and amputation. In that sense, “Home Within Home” embodies a Frankenstein of mangled cultures, which subsequently spirals into paradox. The structure can not exist outside of its antecedents, and thus is created by the perverted union of inherently combative identities. It is a chimera of oneness, simultaneously symbolizing a malformed binary of two cultures and an incomplete entity of selfhood. Yet this self-contradiction is not unique to the dual citizen. None of us can exist independently of our experiences, our heritage, nor our culture. Playing off of this commonality, Suh highlights the asymptotic, false-sense of oneness in which many of us indulge. Our inability to exist impervious to our unique backgrounds is the very insufficiency that prevents us from embodying a complete being. Depending on one’s perspective, perhaps this knowledge of our inherent shortcoming is liberating— a permission slip to meld past and future influences without fear of imperfection. For others, “Home Within Home” may offer a poignant realization of futility – an idea which is as illuminating as it is depressing.
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