A cursory look suggests that variations on the themes of individuality (as opposed to the collective social unit) and transcultural displacement dominate Do-Ho Suh’s oeuvre. Fabricated in nylon, Staircase (2003) is a gauzy blanket of red that hangs suspended from a ceiling spanning 2 floors, an ethereal, translucent replica of his living space in Chelsea, New York in which viewers can peer – rather obliquely – into the open spaces of both storeys. Portable and set adrift in space, it is in such specific architectural structures of transition and liminality – staircases, arches, and gates – that Suh’s physically flimsy entities do not touch the ground but stretch seemingly into the sky, recalling the equally volatile and hazy ideas of home, while simultaneously sustaining a discourse of the limitations of public and personal space.
In Cause & Effect (2007), a circular, tornado-like funnel takes shape out of tiny acrylic figures stacked on one another’s shoulders, a precarious installation that results in the entire piece resting (quite literally) on the sole central figure’s feet. Its particular pathos draws from the fact that though the sheer force of collective effort is realised through the mobilisation of the individual, the individual is profoundly powerless on his own.
After an 8-week residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Do-Ho Suh has produced a number of 2-dimensional works and thread-drawings, revisiting these issues that first emerged in his 3-dimensional sculptural creations. Using the technique of sewing lines over thin washi paper, the now-anchorless cotton threads float in water and are later fused onto heavy cotton paper in a hypnotising mesh of squiggles and lines.
Through the repetitive use and spatial representation of basic forms and shapes, there is however, the broader sense that Suh’s contemplative, dimensionally-flat pieces now teeter on the edge of metaphysicality, particularly since they are now unencumbered by the larger-than-life theatrical presence of his previously monumental installations. Thematically similar to Cause & Effect’s depiction of the uneasy co-existence of the individual within a community, Karma Juggler (2010-11) is a series of drawings consisting of hundreds of concentric rings – all of which form a coherent entity – yet alluding to the existence of a supporting, primordial reality built on moral causation. Staircase’s (2010) 2-dimensional blue thread construction, now stripped of size and the vibrant hue of red still references its predecessor, relying on the viewer’s perception to envisage the levels to which it ascends.