STPI: Creative Workshop & Gallery brings Do Ho Suh and Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan to Art Basel Hong Kong
STPI’s exhibition of works by Do Ho Suh, and Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan at Art Basel Hong Kong is an examination of belonging and home
The negotiation of identity and one’s sense of belonging in the world is in many ways the perennial condition of man. We look inward in search of a unique ownership of self, and of the incidental relationships and environments that selfhood is implicated in. That ownership is often embodied in the concept of home. It is a physical-psychological place that can only exist wholly across the two planes; to loosely borrow geographer J. Nicholas Entrikin’s term, home is the “betweenness of space” or the meeting point of two spaces that cannot be separated.
Place, and the right to it, has become one of the biggest fault lines of international politics as debates over immigration, refugee status, and marginal identities have erupted over the past year. In a time when the concept of home— having a secure place one belongs to— has seemingly never been more contested or coveted, it has given renewed significance to the work of Korean artist Do Ho Suh.
Do was born in 1962 in South Korea and grew up amidst its economic expansion under the authoritarian leadership of Park Chung Hee. Moving to the US at twenty-nine to study art at the Rhode Island School of Design, the acute sense of displacement catalysed a questioning of his identity and where its roots lay. It is a single-minded line of inquiry that has led to works that are powerful articulations of place, dislocation, memory, and belonging.
The fabric sculptures of his past and present homes and workspaces, of which he is most known for, are stirringly beautiful. Yet although they are one-to-one scale models, they are less habitable replicas than transcendental traces of time and place. Do’s use of colourful translucent fabric for the structures imbues them with a strange tension. They oscillate between the melancholic and sanguine, monumentality and frailty.
In the sense that they are sculptures that compel one to enter, or evoke a psychological entering and occupying, these sculptures may be more accurately described as thresholds. “I’m interested in portable space, I want to carry this thing with me,” Do has said of his motivation. His works do not just embody the moving between places that marks the passage of life; they are mementos of our ability to perceive the places we come into only in relation to the ones we have entered from.
In recent years, Do has welcomed two-dimensional mediums into his practice, creating thread drawings, rubbings, lithographs and cyanotypes. These works were developed out of two artist residencies with the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI), in 2010 and 2015. Specialists in print and papermaking, STPI is known for its close collaborative relationship with artists. Its artist residencies’ have frequently germinated unexpected, experimental techniques and artworks that have introduced new ways of viewing an artist’s practice, and Do’s case is no exception.
For Do, the move into paper and printmaking from sculpture is a kind of reverse translation. His thread drawings in fact often begin life as three-dimensional models: bits of gelatine paper are sewed together before being dissolved in wet, freshly made paper, leaving behind the thread traces. Unlike the precision and scrupulous detail of his sculptures, these thread drawings are, in comparison, unfettered and exuberant. The almost manic tangle and repetition of thread forms suggest an embracing of childlike, freewheeling imagination. The discovery of this newfound freedom, which arose from his 2010 residency, was so profound for Do that he returned to STPI in 2015 to continue developing the medium.
The second residency saw Do explore another translation of his three-dimensional works into the two-dimensional. Working with his smaller sculptures of the everyday items he encountered such as light bulbs, a fire extinguisher and an alarm pad, he exposed them directly onto photosensitive paper. The resulting cyanotypes are even more arresting than his sculptures; lacking their colour they become phantom traces of a trace, an X-ray-like image where matter is rendered void and space collapses. “‘I think ultimately I am seeking something intangible,” Do says, “to see something that I cannot see… a sort of residue.”
Another body of work which Do developed is a series of three-dimensional rubbings of ordinary domestic items like door handles and switches. Made in paper and pastels, the rubbings are mounted on the wall in the manner of paintings. They bring his artistic explorations full circle as a form of intuitive drawing of space, which Do has since expanded on to record his entire New York apartment in ‘Rubbing/ Loving’ (2016). Whereas his previous fabric sculptures evoked the idea of home as a psychological space suspended between the material and immaterial, the rubbings are a direct physical relic of home, with all its dirt and dust captured in situ.
As two-dimensional works, the thread drawings and cyanotypes may be viewed as the ultimate realisation of Do’s desire for portable spaces. They are certainly much easier to carry around, and more intimate in their imperfection. Seen alongside his sculptural pieces in fabric and paper however, Do’s body of work is a reminder that perhaps “home” can never be captured in its entirety. Its beauty lies in the moving in-between, traversing physical space and psychological dwelling.
Several of Do’s thread drawings will be exhibited at STPI’s booth at the upcoming Art Basel Hong Kong from 29-31 March, and complementing Do’s works are a selection of works from Brisbane and Manila-based installation artist duo Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan. Similar to Do, the Aquilizans’ have consistently explored the idea of home, identity, and collective memory in relation to cultural displacement (specifically too, their own self-imposed migration to Australia in 2006) and social upheaval. Many of their works are quietly provocative and poignant examinations of the impact of forced movement or dispossession in disenfranchised communities. Seminal works include ‘Wings’ (2009), angel wing sculptures made from the slippers of the inmates of a Singapore correctional facility, and ‘In-Habit: Project Another Country’ (2012), a large-scale installation inspired by the flimsy dwellings and itinerant existence of the marginalised Badjao people in southwestern Philippines.
What will be shown at Art Basel Hong Kong is in fact a reinterpretation of ‘In Habit’. Originally a collaborative work that toured Australia and Japan and invited visitors to add onto the installation by constructing small cardboard dwellings, the Aquilizans have reused the cardboard to create evocative collographs and screenprints meticulously outlined by hand with cardboard pulp. First shown at their groundbreaking 2017 exhibition staged by STPI titled ‘Of Fragments and Impressions’, they will be featured in the special Kabinett curated section of the fair. The transformed work is an even starker expression of dislocation and community fragmentation than the original. Literally squashed and flattened, they echo bombed sites and dirt traces that bear reminder of both the fragility of home, and its vulnerability.
This article was written by Rachel Ng for Art Republik 18.
More information at stpi.com.sg.