Do-Ho Suh & Instant Karma

”Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions”,said Edgar Cayce.Dubbed the sleeping prophet, Cayce was in fact an interpreter of the dream state of consciousness.  Cayce believed in the law of cause and effect. He suggested that in the process of dreaming, when the body and mind are quiescent, the individual gets attuned to and has access to the collective unconscious or the collective storehouse of experiences past and present. At times there may be a perfect connection, and at other times not. Cayce believed that for the subconscious there is no past and there is no future. Cayce believed that most things are dreamed of before they come true.

The Theory of karma and its manifestation on the three dimensional plane, artistically, as a visual art , is articulated as memory coming to consciousness as a recall, and repeat of what occurred in the past now imposed on a imposed in the actual. Artistically, a representation of an opportunity to resolve incompatible memories. …

 Interested in the malleability of space in both its physical and metaphorical manifestations, Do Ho Suh constructs site-specific installations that question the boundaries of identity.  His work explores the relation between individuality, collectivity, and anonymity.  “The common misunderstanding,” he says, “is that my work is a confrontation, a clash of cultures. It’s not really about that. It’s more about interdependency and the way things coexist. That’s what I’m interested in, how to survive, how to blend in.It is an ongoing process.”

Suh, Some/One 2001

Suh, Some/One 2001



Yet if we look closely at his viewpoint and belief, we find that the separation between the elements is more accurately a detachment than a division. An artistic  striving to release oneself from the possessive power of the materiality of this world while still actively participating in it, without the complete loss of self-identity; rather, as Cayce so aptly phrased it: to know yourself to be yourself, yet one with the Whole.

Do-Ho Suh

Do-Ho Suh



Throughout his career, Suh has explored issues of personal and cultural identity, displacement, individuality, and transience as a unified interconnected series of elements rather than a pop-art tendency, to disposable diversions of time and space. Through repetition of individual forms, the artist makes reference to the complex relationship of the individual to the collective, as frequently a seemingly anonymous mass of figures are used to literally support the greater whole and in which the nature and complexity of free-will is explored; as if increasingly crushing leverag

d pressure, beyond certain parameters, places the very structure of society in question.

 The Paratrooper Series from 2006  marked a continuation of Suh’s interest in the fluid,  transient nature of a global culture, its common threads of consciousness connected to a universal whole; as well as the more prosaic personal reflections on the experiences of landing in a foreign culture. The parachute and its bundle  of human emotions served as metaphor for the tension between spirituality and materiality; and the forces of lightness of being, weight and gravity ,competing simultaneously as part of an ongoing narrative.

Do Ho Suh, KARMA

Do Ho Suh, KARMA



”I am interested in the space that moves along with me, or that I move with me; the space I try to move with me because I want to, because it is important to me; or the space I have to move with me because I am forced to; or the space that just tags along with me without my being conscious of it–the space that I create for myself and the space that is imposed on me; the space in/through which I feel good, protected, comfortable, liberated, and the space that is imposed on me and therefore oppresses, confines, and alienates me. I explore the personal space as the combination of tension between these two force fields, and how the boundaries of the personal space are drawn.”( Do-Ho Suh, 1997 )

Challenging the established notion of the common citizen revering a monument to an important figure, Suh emphasized the power of the individual within public space most markedly in a South Korean installation called KARMA. “KARMA is created based on oriental philosophy that every person is related to a number of former lives. The work is placed in Times Square Plaza with a concept of “TIME”. The work visually embodies the relationship of lives that a present reason may cause, a present or future result by showing a number of people riding on each other. Connected by hope or by mutual resentment about perishing in fear would be an appropriate subtext to this piece.

Do-Ho Suh, Parachute

Do-Ho Suh, Parachute



 A final, yet related observation is Suh’s complex explorations of human rights within the visual arts.To elaborate, Suh’s installations appear informed by his experience in the Korean military and evoke, and react to, the conformist mentality of Korean culture. His repetition and accumulation of factory made materials bring up connotations of Asian production labor, generic design and expendability.

In “Some/One”, the floor of the gallery is blanketed with a sea of polished military dog tags. Evocative of the way an individual soldier is part of a larger troop or military body, these dog tags swell to form a hollow, ghost-like suit of armor at the center of the room. Whether addressing the dynamic of personal space versus public space, or exploring the fine line between strength in numbers and homogeneity, Suh interrogation of the co-existence of the individual and the collective  in enriched and given context through  hidden and overlooked social histories that seamlessly integrate in the objective capacity of his art.

Furthermore, his work generates a necessary discourse around human rights and offer creative approaches to raising awareness to these issues. Suh’s partial incorporation of Western society’s concept of free association has also permitted his work to escape and distance itself  from cliches of metaphor and similie, resulting in the  creation of fresh, bewildering, original, even near impossible juxtapositions. The common critique of  dissection; tranching the components piecemeal is the surest way of destroying Suh’s work , or at best, negating its impact . Nothing survives an  extenuating autopsy but the compositional narrative and genius of  Suh’s arrangement defy all negative judgments based on rational and linear points of departure.

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3 Responses to Do-Ho Suh & Instant Karma

  1. Jenevieve says:

    Thank you. This is very detailed and helped me a lot with my art project on Do Suh Ho. The quotes especially helped me.

  2. Tim says:

    I love this. He’s a great artist and very very smart. I’ve often thought about how we are actually held up by others who came before us in some ways. I’ll have to check out his ‘Karma’ sculpture near me at Albright Knox.

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