Apollo Magazine

In the studio with… Do Ho Suh

For the past six years, the artist and his children have been building a magical world out of modelling clay in his London studio – but they’re running out of room

Victoria Miro London, Venice/Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London; © Do Ho Suh

Photo: Daniel Dorsa. Courtesy Victoria Miro London, Venice/Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London; © Do Ho Suh

The Korean-born artist Do Ho Suh is best known for the fabric reconstructions of his former homes that he has been making since the late 1990s. In these sculptural installations, as well as work in other media such as film and drawing, the artist explores the question of what ‘home’ means – of our attachment to particular spaces, and how they shape our identity. Later this month Suh will unveil Proposal for Sach’ŏnwang-sa (2021), a new installation at the London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE that considers the parallels between the Roman site and the ancient Korean temple of  Sach’ŏnwang-sa.

Where is your studio? 
In Hackney, London.

What do you like most about the space?
I’m lucky enough to have double-height windows so, although it is not that big a space, the light is amazing. The tall ceilings give me room to think.

What frustrates you about it?
I could always do with more space! I’ve been working on an installation with my two children for around six years now. We’re building this wild, fantastical ecosystem called Artland from modelling clay. It grows and morphs in all these crazy shapes and fills the studio’s floor and tables and even the walls. It’s the most magical thing to have around me while I work, but I could do with more floor space.

Do you work alone?
I work closely with my studio team, but they’ve largely been working remotely over the course of the pandemic. 

How messy is your studio?
It’s a combination of clarity and mess. It is very clean and ordered, but also full to the brim. I’ve got to know it so intimately over the pandemic, particularly from cleaning it top to bottom. It’s interesting because the act of cleaning is a bit like the gesture of rubbing (for a project I started in 2013, I coated my New York studio in paper and rubbed it in coloured pencil to create a coloured paper facsimile of the space).

Rubbing/Loving: New York Home (2013–ongoing), Do Ho Suh. Photo: Christopher Payne

What’s the weirdest object in there?
Bits of Artland are pretty weird – the toilet tree monster breaths fire and can only be defeated with the strongest sanitiser! I also have a lot of model kits of Second World War aeroplanes and odd sci-fi and monster toys that I’ve collected through my travels around the world. I’m also fascinated by realistic miniature animal models.

Which artistic tool could you least do without?
Recently – technology. Not only so I can communicate with others, which is very important to me as I work very collaboratively, but also because I’m increasingly working with AR and robotics. I love working with CNC robots because it counters this very Western imperialist idea of the artist as an individual genius, challenging the concept of the ‘authenticity’ of the artist’s hand.

What’s the most well-thumbed book in your studio?
Buckminster Fuller’s Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth – it’s completely wild!

Do you cook in the studio?
Yes. I cook my breakfast and lunch in the studio. A typical meal is a bowl of salad with lots of ingredients. I eat dinner with my family in our flat next door.

What do you listen to while you’re working?
I generally need silence while I’m working. Sometimes Buddhist chanting if I’m doing something repetitive and manual.

Do you ever sleep in your studio?
Yes! Quite often during the pandemic, when I’ve been having to isolate on and off from my family. As my studio is next to my flat, it could have been a lot worse – my daughters would write me letters and push them under the door and we’d do that back and forth, and then we’d meet outside on the canal.

Is anything (or anyone) banned from your studio?
Outdoor shoes.

‘Do Ho Suh: Proposal for Sach’ŏnwang-sa’ is at London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE from 28 July–22 January 2022.

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