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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.

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?

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

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