Do-Ho Suh Reflectionby Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle
Lehmann Maupin Gallery
November 27, 2007- February 2, 2008
“A guest plus a host is a ghost.”
Lucretius thought that pictures flew through the air on films, alighting on our eyes to grant us vision. When asked about the primacy of perception, materials, or space, Do-Ho Suh asserts “The image is always first.” Further, he maintains, “I have a desire to create my piece without any material.” If Duchamp famously decried the dark age of retinal painting, could this shift mark the dawn of retinal sculpture?
Suh’s Reflection is as close to gone as any bridge-sized span can be. It is a holy ghost in a gossamer gown. Detailed to its silky bricks, it replicates the gate to his bedroom in his childhood home in South Korea. Then it replicates itself, upside down.
A reflection, likewise, is a memory.
Earlier, Do-Ho Suh’s The Perfect Home II (2003), a full-scale copy of his own New York apartment, also fashioned wholly from diaphanous nylon, included doorknobs and even Phillips-head screws in that same (im)material. Now, cloud castles on a mirrored lake shudder in the haze. Repetition is haunted or hushed. This may sound wistful, wispy, weak, but Reflection packs a punch. Seeing is believing. I mean that in a religious sense. This is the proof of God.
One arch, in Tiffany blue, stands at mid height in the gallery on a translucent scrim. Its twin hovers visible below, suspended above the wooden floor. In the Lehmann Maupin space on Chrystie St. I viewed Reflection from ground level and from a balcony slightly higher than its floating split-screen horizontal, compounding all inverse perspectives. I was mesmerized. Spirit and substance joined. The light took on a pastel cast: Cimabue blue. Celadon in nylon.
“When you see a person, you don’t just see the person standing in front of you—you see their background, their family or ancestors, the invisible webs of relationship or information.” (Do-Ho Suh)
The Gnostics believed that Jesus was an incorporeal image. So Valentinian opposed the resurrection of the flesh: “The image must rise through the image.” An astral projection of such supernature served only to enhance Christ’s divinity in their eyes.
In the art world “Presence” became a pet concept, once, for critic Michael Fried: a possibly spurious attribute, soon metaphysically demonized by Jacques Derrida. I will not enter into any definitions. Here I abuse all categorical distinctions and take this term first in its common daylight parlance to mean the “thing-in-itself”; next as Kant’s dread Noumenon; and last as Heidegger’s notorious das Ding. (Hell, we might as well toss in The Thing, say, by Stephen King. I refer you to F.T. Marinetti’s “Words-in-Freedom.”) What matters most is that Do-Ho Suh’s somber Some/One (2001) weighs a ton, while its soul mate Reflection shimmers in thin air.
In any acceptation, both have immense presence, which can be called command.
Another “house” of Suh’s, Seoul Home/L.A. Home/New York Home, expands its title to include its last known address every time it moves. Transportable architecture, he folds it up and puts it in his suitcase. How Duchamp would adore this valise! Derrida would have cherished its arché.
Some/One was exhibited in New York at The Whitney Museum at Phillip Morris, in 2001. The Open Kimono style of tattoo is a full body design halting at the wrists and neck, left open down the front like an unbuttoned jacket. This was devised so that masterpieces of tattoo might be preserved, by flaying artworks from a dead bearer’s body. Do-Ho Suh’s Some/One suggests an Open-Kimono-Cut erect in hollow, armor-plated scales. An emptied eminence grise (dis)embodying one ancient Asian soldier’s shadow, clad in G.I. dog-tags like chain mail. Immovable object. Irresistible force. Moody, solemn and foreboding, suitably it broods. Asia meets the West’s “Stone Guest.”
I must sadly add, however, that I cannot give all Suh’s works my unconditional love. Literal, labored. Puh-leeze, don’t spell it out in English! Floor (1997-2000), eponymous flat glass sheets supported by 180,000 toy plastic people? Duh. I get it. Screen (2005) looks like road-kill Gumbies.
Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle is an American poet and art critic. He lives in Paris and New York City.