I am glad to be two days late for the press night of artist Do Ho Suh’s new exhibition Passage/s, because when I do arrive at the Victoria Miro, I have the gallery almost entirely to myself. Less than a handful of people move through the installation, which runs until the 18th March. Sounds of the laughter of the artist’s daughter from a video upstairs bounce around the large, empty first room, and it all feels personal, and private.
I only wish I hadn’t read the press release: almost a thousand words explain Do Ho Suh’s “thematic and emotional touchstones”; the “sense of being in flux, crossing boundaries and moving between psychological states” that I should expect. His work, it says, is a meditation on the idea of home; the “physical structure” and the “lived experience.” And so I enter the gallery expecting confusion, messiness and emotion; excitement, joy, fear – feelings attendant in any change of home, in any change in life.
No doubt home is the artist’s literal referent: there are videos of his houses, of walks he has taken through London and Korea with his daughter. There are thread drawings on handmade cotton paper of entrances and staircases that he has known. Places and passageways that the artist has lived, worked, and moved through are reproduced in their original dimensions in polyester and steel pipes.
However, it is all too neat, too clean to be any home, any change of home, that I recognise. The video that moves between clips of his apartments in different countries does so too easily; the images of the rooms are stitched seamlessly together. The pans of the camera suggest movement, but I get no sense of upheaval. The gallery is well heated, but the collection leaves me a little cold.
Of the three areas dedicated to this exhibition, the one that houses his fabric replicas of corridors and entranceways is undoubtedly the standout. The open doors invite you inside and for a moment you might feel transported. The colours are refreshingly bright in yet another whitewashed gallery, and the combination of the neon shades and the translucent material casts the space beyond in a surprising filter: looking out from the inside of the entrance of a New York apartment, it is as though I am seeing the gallery through a purple gel, through the blue and red coloured lenses of paper 3D sunglasses. A mustard yellow ground floor corridor is particularly striking.
I gently graze my hand against a wall and it is sturdier than I expect; causing only a slight tremor. These constructions have the potential to be playful, fun and interactive. I want to touch them more. I want to ring a doorbell. Press a fabric button and wait for a fabric lift. However, I am reminded that this is not for playing when I am asked to remove my rucksack, and immediately I am back in a Hoxton art gallery.
Undoubtedly, if you choose to interpret the collection as the press release suggests, then there is important political and personal commentary to be found: it is an endorsement of free movement, a portrait of home as a patchwork stitched together from the off-cuts of the past, the corridors walked along in life. But it needn’t be read this way. In fact, it needn’t be read at all.
Instead, I suggest you approach Do Ho Suh’s collection as his daughter might, with laughter bouncing off the white walls. Avoid the press release, take off your rucksack and walk through his structures. Reach out, and then resist trying to touch the fabric switches, the buzzers and doorknobs. Be playful, like his daughter in the video, and enjoy the bright colours and the artist’s unquestionably masterful technique. Then put your rucksack back on and go home, whatever that might mean to you.