Do Ho Suh: getting personal with displacement

Superficiality, distortion and lack of authenticity are plaguing our world, our news and sometimes our relationships with people. Maybe technology makes everything available but it also buries us under an avalanche of impersonal content with little substance. So, with this in mind, I give you the very personal art of Do Ho Suh and his many variations on the theme of displacement.

Have you ever moved to a different country? Have you ever had to leave your comfort zone to start from scratch at school, at work, at the grocery store? I am French, married to a Brit and after living in quite a few countries, we are currently in California.


It is not the most extreme expatriation by any means, but displacement knows no geographic measure. For me, Do Ho Suh sums up the many shapes of displacement in this little house landed askance on the roof of a building. His artworks always resonate up close and personal and they’ve helped me long after the exhibitions have closed.


I saw his Apartment A (2011–2012), Corridor and Staircase (2011–2012), and Unit 2, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA (2014) during an exhibition at the MCASD last year so I will use my pictures to describe what I feel may affect many people’s lives.

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Do Ho Suh replicated his life-size New York apartment out of colored translucent polyester fabric down to the smallest details. Walking through these architectural yet ethereal sculptures is like walking in a world in soft focus, like a poetic walk down memory lane.


The rooms and appliances are shrouded in varying pastel colors, evocative of a life lived but left behind. Strolling through, are you revisiting a memory or hosting a homesick dream?


The exactitude of embroidered details grabbed me. I noticed that many lay in the spaces in-between, these liminal or interstitial spaces mentioned in a prior post. Why is Do Ho Suh painstakingly reproducing a notice of inspection on the back of a door, the instructions on the inside of the alarm control panel or the screws and brand of a door handle? Do you and I care or look at such mundane details? Not a bit!

I take them as metaphors for what we pass by without paying attention until we miss it so much when we can’t see it anymore! In these intricate and ghost-like details, I felt Do Ho Suh’s expression of pain and sadness but I also chose to see his use of zesty colors as a poetic coping mechanism when I too am faced with nostalgia for my country, my family, my faraway friends…

I choose to conjure up comforting interstitial spaces, like the salty air and sandy touch of hexagonal terracotta tiles I still remember from my grandparents’ house in Noirmoutier, the smell of wood in my Dad’s workshop and the maroon color of a Mazda car I thought was so cool when I was 6…Details and sensations which do not make an exact Black & White memory but suffice to accept what no longer is.


But some other days, it’s much harder to be philosophical and accepting. Sometimes, displacement can’t be easily brushed on by smiling in vague recognition and understanding at the sight of Fallen Star landed on a building.


Before and after a move, there is so much to do, it’s easy to think you’re simply overwhelmed by your new surroundings. When you go through the motions, you may be missing sensations that would otherwise be difficult to ignore. Here again, Do Ho Suh provides an incredible physical expression of how it truly feels. Step inside his Fallen Star and feel for yourself.


The garden, the house, the door, the furniture, everything is sized down to oppress and compress your sense of space. Nothing is straight, aligned or inclined in the same direction. As your brain attempts to correct this visual disorder, your body knows it’s in vain and you slowly but surely succumb to the psychological discomfort and physical nausea. I had to step out, and I could, because it’s Art. I don’t think I did in real life.

Whatever your experience of displacement, balancing painful exactitude versus sensorial impression reminds me of an excellent article worth (re)reading. Just click on the link.

When we ask “How are you doing?” in English, it translates into Arabic and Persian as “How are you being?”. So it’s up to you and me to choose how to respond: will you talk about the inscription on the inside of your door handle until it makes you physically sick or will you choose to share the colors of your memories?

If you’re in London, seize the chance to visit Do Ho Suh’s  Passage/s at the Victoria Miro Gallery on view until March 18, 2017.

In San Diego, you can visit Fallen Star every Tuesday and Thursdays between 11am and 2pm, part of the Stuart Collection on the UCSD campus.

Feel free to share, like and comment.

© 2017 Ingrid Westlake


11 thoughts on “Do Ho Suh: getting personal with displacement

  1. Great article! (as always 😉
    Displacement to me is a time for growth. Never an easy process, even if the displacement has been chosen. Your foundation is shaken but when all finally settles down, you realize how strong you are, how much you have accomplished, how you have transformed to a better version of yourself.
    It looks like a new displacement is right around the corner for me…. Yikes!
    Sorry I meant: bring it on!
    Thanks Ingrid for making us think!

    1. That’s a great point, Karoll. Going through displacement is tough but strengthening at the same time once we understand the resilience and energy we did not suspect we had. Embracing the challenge instead of resisting it definitely is key to less trauma but sometimes I found it easier said than done. I know YOU have what it takes though 😘

  2. This post is very sensible – in all ways.
    You put some words on my mixed feelings when walking through Do Ho Suh’s NY apartment replica: a walk through the past. So precisely realistic and so surreal like a dream. Some nostalgia, a bit of sadness tinted with the subtil shades of loneliness. It made me very unconfortable. I think I understand how why: I don’t want nostalgia. I have decided that I don’t like it.

    We say that the smell is the only sense that is not processed by the brain and imprinted intact in our memory. All the other senses are analyzed, dissected, and stored in a way that suits our (very) controlling brain.
    The past is the past. You can’t change it but you can decide how to store it. Anyway, who defines what is reality?

    But I’m loosing track… back to displacement….
    For me, moving is like a rebirth. It’s an opportunity to re-invent myself, to rejuvenate. Like the brain does with memory, I consciently decide to leave behind what doesn’t serve me anymore. What I keep becomes part of a virtual village that I carry wherever. That is my personal vision of displacement.
    Thank you for sharing yours 💋 😊

    1. Thank you for sharing your view of displacement as well. Do Ho Suh made a beautiful artwork with colored yarn of interlocking houses that keeps growing off a man’s head, illustrating perfectly your last comment on “your virtual village”. I will try to send you a picture.
      Agreed on taking moving as an opportunity, it’s about having the upper hand on our brain 😉
      Thank you for reading, always.

  3. So pleased to see our slightly off-kilter Do Ho Suh house included on your blog, Ingrid. I am very attached to Fallen Star in the Stuart Collection. I was fortunate to have a long talk with Do Ho Suh when he was here for the dedication and we had just returned from Korea ourselves. As more and more people move about the country and the world this art work speaks to so many-especially on a campus like ours which is so diverse.

    1. Sheila, you are so lucky to have talked to Do Ho Suh about Fallen Star! I love his work as you probably can tell. There are so many layers to his art, it’s so personal but also so universal in the feelings it deals with.
      Being a big fan of the Stuart Collection, I intend to cover as many of the artworks on campus as possible. I will talk to you first though if you met some of the other artists 😉

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