For artist Do Ho Suh, clothing is the “smallest, most intimate habitat that one person can carry. And when you expand that idea, it becomes architecture.”¹ Indeed, Some/One—a monumental armor sculpture made from thousands of military dog tags—embodies the architectural possibilities that Suh sees in clothing.
Answering the question “How much space does one need to be an individual?” Suh explores the relationship between individual and collective, redefining how we might perceive this dichotomy. Some/One in particular is informed by Suh’s experience in the Korean military, which is mandatory service for young men. Unified as one coat of armor, the chain mail-like sculpture is comprised of unique metal tags—each one bearing a sequence of random letters and numbers.² The sculpture somehow manages to defy gravity despite the imagined weight of its 30,000-plus stainless steel tags. Additionally, the piece’s large fanning base serves dual purposes: it supports the sculpture structurally, as well as makes physical and metaphorical space to consider the work’s footprint.
Dog tags are inherently a marker of individualism used to identify soldiers, but they also connect a troop to a larger collective and, ultimately, nation. In the words of the artist, “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.”³ When we see one person’s tag, we see so much more than a name, place of birth, or unit—we see their life.
Further, the reflective surface and mirrored interior of Some/One underscores the artist’s desire for viewers to see themselves—literally and figuratively—in the work. Whether the sculpture serves as a monument honoring fallen troops or highligts the anonymity of their service (or carries other readings altogether) is willfully left open to the viewer. This work is not currently on view but it will be exhibited when the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens in late 2019.
– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator
Image: Some/One, 2001, Do Ho Suh, stainless steel military dog-tags, nickel-plated copper sheets, steel structure, glass fiber reinforced resin, rubber sheets, diameter at base: 24 ft. 4 in.; Height: 81 in., Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2002.43 © Do Ho Suh. Photo: Justin Gollmer.
 C. Carr, “In the House with Do-Ho Suh: World of Interiors,” Village Voice, June 23, 2003, http://www.lehmannmaupin.com/artists/do-ho-suh/press/127.
 Do Ho Suh, “’Some/One’ and the Korean Military,” interview by Art21, Art21, 2003, https://art21.org/read/do-ho-suh-some-one-and-the-korean-military.
 Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle, “Do-Ho Suh Reflection” Brooklyn Rail, March 7, 2008, https://brooklynrail.org/2008/03/artseen/reflection.
Finally a New Year’s resolution that will be fun to try and keep–come experience the art at SAM Downtown, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park! Here are our top five picks for what to see and do with SAM in January.
1. Walk through Do Ho Suh’s Gate.
Luminous: The Art of Asia closes January 8, which means there are only five more days to see Do Ho Suh’s magnificent multimedia installation and to take in this gorgeous exhibition representing 5,000 years of Asian art.
2. Take a spin in Theaster Gates: The Listening Room.
Visit the “church of wax” at SAM Downtown and touch, feel and play the records (yes-vinyl records!) in this installation at SAM Downtown. The Listening Room also extends beyond the walls of the museum to a storefront in Pioneer Square called the Record Store, where you can be part of a listening party.
3. See a unique perspective of 1930s Seattle.
Painting Seattle at the Seattle Asian Art Museum features two painters, Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura, known in 1930s Seattle for their American realist style of landscape painting. They shared the cultural legacy of Japan and the active cultural life of Seattle’s Japantown, while they found a public audience for their work in mainstream art institutions and participated alongside the city’s advanced artists, such as Mark Tobey, Ambrose Patterson and Walter Isaacs.
4. Get ready for Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise.
Seattle Art Museum presents the only United States stop for this landmark show highlighting the complex relationship between Paul Gauguin’s work and the art and culture of Polynesia. The exhibition, on view at SAM Downtown February 9 through April 29, includes about 50 of Gauguin’s brilliantly hued paintings, sculptures and works on paper, which are displayed alongside 60 major examples of Polynesian sculpture that fueled his search for the exotic. Organized by the Art Centre Basel, the show is comprised of works on loan from some of the world’s most prestigious museums and private collections. Buy your advance tickets now!
5. Celebrate the Olympic Sculpture Park’s 5th Birthday Party.
Five years ago Seattle’s waterfront was transformed forever. Come to the Olympic Sculpture Park on January 21 to help us mark this very important milestone with food, art and other activities.
Combine some of your other New Year’s resolutions with art. Trying to exercise more? Take a walk through the Olympic Sculpture Park or ride your bike to the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Looking to save money? Take advantage of First Thursdays or SAM’s suggested admission, which allows you to pay what you can. Art can even help you decrease stress.
SAM is always happy to connect art to your life, and we look forward to seeing you more in 2012!
-Madeline Moy, Digital Media Manager
Invited to provide a contemporary response to the historical material, internationally recognized artist Do Ho Suh created a new multimedia installation for the exhibition Luminous: The Art of Asia, on view at SAM Downtown until January 8, 2012.
Born in Korea and presently living in New York and London, Suh is the creator of the Seattle Art Museum’s famed dog-tag sculpture Some/One. Over the past year Suh and SAM have engaged in a dialogue on topics such as eastern philosophy, East Asian painting, the contemporary art scene, and art museum practices.
Suh’s installation, titled Gate, was commissioned exclusively for Luminous and transforms one of the artist’s existing fabric pieces into a screen for projection as well as a space of transition.
“Like the moment of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism, passing through a gate takes only a split second, and then it’s over,” Suh explains. “But so many things happen in such a short period of time. With this work, I wanted to extend that moment of passage, to delay it, if only for an instant, to provide the viewer that moment of insight.”
“Our notion of emptiness is quite different in the East,” Suh explains. “The void is not empty or bleak but charged with meaning.”
Watch the videos below to hear more from Suh, to see Gate in action and to take a behind-the-scenes look at the installation of the piece.
On October 13, Luminous: The Art of Asia opens at SAM Downtown. SAM houses one of the finest collections of Asian art in the United States and Luminous showcases that. Totaling 160 pieces, this exhibition meshes the ancient with the contemporary while leaving room for individual interpretation and questioning. Do Ho Suh is an artist who has worked closely with SAM over the years and has contributed his own contemporary installation to the show as well as his perspectives, ideas and questions, which pepper the labels of various pieces on display.
A common thread that runs through Luminous is the highlighting of difficulties in museum practices. Museums have a very difficult job telling the public the intended message of their pieces in an accurate and concise manner. In discussions with Catherine Roche, the curator of Luminous, Suh said, “The museum is a space of displacement. Every object in a museum has been moved from its original context and placed on a pedestal.” He goes on to mention the important role that the museum has; piecing together gaps to tell the overall story. The question remains – what is the best way for the museum to tell the story? There are three common ways: guided tours, audio guides, and the ever-present labels.
We asked Roche to give us insight on the formation and importance of those labels. She wrote: