Visiting Do Ho Suh’s exhibition “Passages” at Victoria Miro on Wharf Road opens the door to a multitude of portals, entrances, and exits. The main theme approached here is the one of the journey, including time, space, and emotional transitions. The artist was born in South Korea and lived in New York before he moved to London five years ago. In his work, Suh manifests his receptivity for the existing connection between a space as simple as a corridor between rooms, or the one announcing movement such as a doorframe. Motion materializes in tangible elements but what interests Suh is the invisible experience. It is almost never emphasized and described, other than internally, with discussions between anxiety, calm, curiosity, past resurgences, or excitement. Those sensations and emotions are kept deep within oneself, perhaps even suppressed from one’s consciousness.
The artist uses coloured polyester fabric to build the passage from point A to point B. Recurrent in the two main galleries (I and II), they are used differently to appeal to all eyes, all sensitivities. In the first room, upon entering, extra-large frames enclose flattened two-dimensional ‘drawings’. By soaking the architectural hand sewn pieces into water, the gelatin comprised in the fabric dissolves, leaving the thread apparent. The rendering is a colourful skeletal paper structure with the appearance of a hand drawn sketch. All these entrances have been encountered by Suh while he was living in New York. They act now as a trigger to the memories, stories, and time spent crossing those doors, proving the importance of their impact on the progression of one’s life. Discreet and eternal they somehow influence identity acting as a psychological frontier. The imaginative reflexions behind the meaning of these entrances and exits are as enjoyable and interesting as the combination of threads and colours shaping the artwork.
As much as a doorframe or a staircase is known to be built in straight lines and right angles, the ones shown here are uneven and deviant. Through the process of water immersion, they have lost their stiffness and appear malleable. This representation of an element which should in theory be stern and strong adapts to the circumstances of life and in the end, shows its real nature: bent, hurt, and unsteady; closer to human beings. This information is not new,but the demonstration through those broken doorframes is poetic and touching.
The continuation of the exhibition is through a very long staircase leading to the Hubs in gallery II. The entire space is occupied by three-dimensional corridors, articulated by fabric doorframes and supported by stainless steel. The door knobs, mouldings, fire extinguisher fittings, and windows, have been reproduced with the maximum details. There are no two ways to experience this installation. One has to immerse into the hall and encounter other strangers. The airy, almost transparent fabric walls create freedom, and without them, it may otherwise feel claustrophobic. There is a lot of photography from other viewers involved when taking the small steps that lead to the exit. There are the ones who stop in the middle to take a selfie, or have their companion take a shot of themselves in front of their favourite coloured wall, some take pictures of the details, and try to measure the perspective always by using the camera on their phones. Rare are the ones who, like myself, try to leave the distraction aside and walk steadily, assess the sensations of being confined in such a small space with strangers, and keep an eye on their emotions. In a way, even the ones who hide from their feelings participate in the experimentation and become subjects of reflexions for others.
This passage that Suh created is a paradigm reflecting our current state. State of mind, and social state. Behind those screens, people hide. They hide because they are afraid, because they don’t know, or because they do know. Interestingly enough, at the end of the corridor, the action of posting one’s best self in front of the art work leads to the following interrogation: what is the purpose of the artist in constructing such a vivid, Instagram-able piece? Is it self-promotion? Is it to alienate the old-school viewers who believe the relationship between the artist, the viewer, and the art piece is the only one that should prevail in a gallery or a museum? Or is it to pinpoint a contemporary relationship art must face which is the one involving the viewer, the art piece and the viewer’s image through the art piece, excluding the artist and the underlying meaning he is willing to express?
These questions have remained unsolved at the end of the exhibition. Perhaps they are obsolete, only mine to take home and try to answer, or perhaps these are valid points? Either way, this is a fraction of what can be felt in the closed corners of these colourful doors. Not only an Instagram validated installation but also a pathway to existential crucial questions in regards to the development of the relationship between an artist, his art piece, the viewer, and their phone.
Do Ho Suh at Victoria Miro (1 February – 18 March 2017)