A house may not be a home and walls cannot talk, but this doesn’t stop us from remembering fondly — sometimes even viscerally — some of the places we have called home over our lives.
And what do we remember about them? Sometimes only the smell of meals cooked long before we came to stand in the kitchen, or the sound of the spring on the screen door when it creaks open or the crack in the plaster on the bathroom wall that kind of looks like a cat lying down.
In his exhibit Almost Home at the American Art Museum, Korean artist Do Ho Suh remembers three of his favorite apartments. But he doesn’t choose to show us the impressive view or the vintage décor; instead, he recreates the corridors in each of his apartments in excruciating detail — doorknobs, stairs, hinges, pipes.
The installation is made of a light, sheer fabric that illustrates the ethereal nature of the artist’s memory. The walls — gauzy and ghostly in their translucence — are made of colored fabric drawn over wire. Suh intended it to be easily dismantled and set up again at its next destination.
Visitors get a short orientation speech from a guide before they are allowed to enter (no backpacks, coats or children allowed inside — and no touching!) in an effort to protect the delicate structure from damage.
The first corridor is pink, and it represents the artist’s New York apartment. It includes a painstakingly stitched light switch and radiator. Suh studied for years with Korean artisans to gain the skill necessary to achieve such exactitude. The airy fabric he chose is the same kind that is often used to make traditional Korean summer clothing.
The next part of the corridor is green — Berlin — and includes an ornate door handle and chain lock. The final part, in blue, is Seoul. Although Suh differentiated the sections with colors, he constructed them as one continuous corridor to mirror his path in life. The Smithsonian refers to it as “an endless passageway with no fixed destination.”
Outside of the installation are other ordinary household items Suh stitched, including a toilet seat, sink and ice cube tray. Suh goes into unbelievable detail, stitching the words on labels inside a circuit breaker box and the directions on a fire extinguisher.
Several pieces of wall art round out the exhibit. In one, Suh stitched dozens of houses on large piece of white cotton paper in bright-colored thread, all in various stages of movement. Here in the U.S., we “move”; in the U.K., they “move house,” and in Korea, they “walk the house.” Thus, Suh depicts several houses that incorporate feet or legs, moving on their own.
Don’t miss Suh’s poignant commentary on house and home — you may never look at yours the same way again.
Almost Home, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F Streets NW, through Aug. 5, free.