‘The Gesture of Rubbing Is a Very Loving Gesture’: Watch Do Ho Suh Memorialize His New York City Apartment With Colored Pencil

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Artist Do Ho Suh. Photo: Courtesy Lehmann Maupin, New York/Hong Kong.

When the Korean-born artist Do Ho Suh took over the lease of a friend’s apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan almost 20 years ago, he couldn’t have imagined that it would become equal parts a sanctuary, studio laboratory, and ultimately, a work of art in and of itself. In an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of its “Place Part II” series in 2016, Suh reveals that when he first met the building’s landlord, the man was skeptical that an artist would even manage to make rent.

Eighteen years later, the artist had formed an attachment not only to the aging proprietor but also to the physical space where he’d lived and worked. He created a number of works based on the apartment’s dimensions and structure. Right now at the Brooklyn Museum, a full-scale replica of the space made of hand-sewn translucent fabric titled The Perfect Home II is on view as part of the museum’s “One” series of shows, which spotlight an individual work of art.

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Do Ho Suh: ‘Rubbing / Loving.'” © Art21, Inc. 2016.

Two years ago, when Suh was moving out, he created one last project that in his mind would “capture the information of the space that was lacking from my fabric version.” He tells Art21: “I try to understand my life as a movement through different spaces…. The whole process is to remember the space, and also somehow memorialize the space.”

To create the work, the artist covered every surface of the apartment with white paper and used colored pencils to transfer the textures of the underlying structure. “My energy has been accumulated, and in way, I think, my rubbing shows that…just imagine how many times that I actually flip that light switch when I was living in here for 18 years. I’m trying to show the layers of time.” 

Up close, viewers can see that certain spots are shaded darker than others—doorknobs and locks, for example, are almost smooth with wear; bricks above the fireplace, meanwhile, still retain their original gradient. “If I write ‘rubbing’ in Korean, people could read it as ‘loving’ because there’s no distinction between ‘r’ and ‘l’ in Korean alphabet. I think the gesture of rubbing is a very loving gesture.”

Watch the full segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. “One: Do Ho Suh” is on view at the Brooklyn Museum through January 27, 2019. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television is available now on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.

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