Chuyoung Lee, Associate Curator, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea
A new massive building complex has been completed in the heart of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. An extraordinarily and delicately harmonious vibe fills the entirety of the precincts of National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea(hereinafter referred to as 'MMCA')'s branch in Seoul, as its buildings are entrancingly orchestrated in the way that the histories of disparate times and spaces chime in subtle symphony: The traditional Korean-style house of Jongchinbu, the office for royal family affairs during the Joseon dynasty; the red-brick building that was constructed in 1913 as the Capital Army Hospital under the Japanese rule and had housed the office of the Defense Security Command since the 1970s; a contemporary-style structure made of ivory terracotta and glass curtain walls. Located at the core of the contemporary-style structure, which is the Seoul branch's exhibition wing, Seoul Box functions as both a plaza where the flows of visitors converge and diverge and a special space allocated for the installation of large-scale contemporary artworks of experimentality and originality.
Hanjin Shipping The Box Project is an MMCA's ambitious project through which Seoul Box is accoutered with artists' ingenious and stimulating ideas. MMCA has selected Do Ho Suh (1962- ) as the protagonist for the Project's first chapter held in celebration of the historic opening of National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea's Seoul Branch. Suh studied traditional-style Korean painting at Seoul National University and painting and sculpture at Rhode Island School of Design and Yale University in the United States. For the last two decades or so he has firmly established himself as an important artist in the international art scene through his exquisite sculptures, installations and video works of inimitable originality and intriguing concepts.
In the early years of his study in the United States, Suh gave form to his experience of dramatic 'spatial' change due to the difference in physical distance between Seoul and the United States and to the uncomfortable and unfamiliar sensations and feelings caused by such change on the basis of the idea of 'spatial migration' and 'displacement of space'. By meticulously measuring every inch of the apartment where he was residing and making a precise and detailed cast of it out of fabric as if designing a custom-made dress for it, the artist defined a 'home' as one's intimate, 'clothing(skin)-like space,' which could thus be a 'space of portability' allowing one to fold it up and carry it with him or her. In 1999 he showed at the Korean Cultural Center, Los Angeles Seoul Home/L.A. Home, which was received favorable critiques. For this work he constructed from jade-colored silk an elaborate reproduction of his family house built in the traditional Korean style in Seongbuk-dong, Seoul, and it was with this 'space (home)' relocated to the center of Los Angeles across the Pacific Ocean that Suh defied the definition of space as fixed at particular areas and locations and launched his serious inquiry into the concept of 'transcultural displacement' - the process through which a space are endlessly given layers of new meanings as it crosses the spatial and temporal boundaries.
This huge fabric installation of Suh entitled 'Home Within Home Within Home Within Home Within Home' is specially created to epitomize the vital spatial property of Seoul Box that can be undeniably characterized by its abundant natural light coming through its glass walls and the historical attribute of the Seoul branch's compound in which traditional, modern and contemporary buildings embrace each other. This work is comprised of a life-size (12 meters in height, 15 meters in width) replica of the three-story town house at Providence, Rhode Island, which was the artist's first residence where he lived as a student in the United States in 1991 and 'Seoul Home,' a reproduction of his family's traditional-style Korean house in Seoul, hanging in the middle of the former. As one can infer from the title, the work elucidates and conjures the ever-expanding concept of space: traditional Korean house within Western-style house; Western-style house with Seoul Box; Seoul Box within the Seoul branch; the Seoul branch within Seoul.
The main gate of the red-brick building welcomes visitors into its long-corridor lobby whose eastside glass curtain wall gives them through its huge window the seasonally changing view of the quaint Jongchinbu building. There awaits the open space of Seoul Box commanding extensive views. Now the visitors stand before the gigantic 'home' that occupies the entire space of Seoul Box. Then they walk into the phantom-like structure made in thorough details out of translucent fabric of light blue.
The walls made of flimsy transparent fabric of refreshing color let the inside and outside views pass through them to cancel the weight of the enormous structure and simultaneously to enhance the sentiments of the visitors with 'weightless memories' of their own 'spaces'. Enveloped by the entanglement between the inside and the outside and between the private space and the public one, the viewers are fully exposed to the dizzy ambience of the surreal space where the East and the West, the past and the present and the real and the imaginary are intricately interwoven with each other.