The work of Do Ho Suh, a Korean sculptor and installation artist, caught my attention recently when I read a blog from My Modern Met. Suh created a life-size fabric sculpture of two homes; a traditional Korean home where he lived in as a child and his first apartment building when he moved to Providence, Rhode Island in the United States.
The theme of Suh’s installation is especially meaningful to me as I recall my own move from my homeland of Singapore in southeast Asia to Oklahoma City in the United States. If my migration story were to become a similar life-size installation art like that of Suh, there will be some architectural details I will make sure to include.
|Captured from Google Map. Transcontinental move from Singapore (A) to Oklahoma (B) in July 2000.|
As a kid, my favorite spot in my parents’ one-bedroom unit was the corner windows in the kitchen four-story above ground in a 12-story flat. What made that memory vivid was the experience I have had standing on a stool to see through those windows and watch the carriages of a train flashed by. Visiting my cousins in Malaysia was a road trip on the same train I looked forward to every year. Like clockwork every evening at six, I will secure my spot by the windows and count down to the next trip as the air horn announced the train’s arrival, accompanied by the rattling train tracks.
|Captured from Google Map. The 12-story flat is on the right
facing a park and the train tracks beyond that.
Twenty plus years later, I made a transcontinental move to Oklahoma as a college senior and found myself in an empty two-story apartment (with four units) across the street from Oklahoma City University. I remember the squeaky wood floor in the apartment where all I had then, was two suitcases and a full-size mattress. What solidify the memory was the smell of fresh wood varnish, which became unnoticeable after a week but forever engrained in my mind.
|Captured from Google Map. The 2-story apartment is on the left.|
Having worked in the home building industry for collectively about eight years, I have looked at hundreds (if not thousands) of floor plans and created several marketing campaigns for production- to custom-home builders; selling brand new homes and the dream of homeownership.
More often than not, a floor plan is a floor plan is a floor plan. A house is just a house until someone took ownership of it, personalized the space, and live life in and around it. Over time, the fusia green accent wall in the dining room will fade into the background, and the sound of happy chatters during game nights takes over. Over time, the cast stone fireplace in the living room will move into the shadows of winter mornings by the warm fire with the sound of Christmas presents unwrapping. Most of us will remember our homes because of the memories we made there, not so much for its custom oak cabinets or walk-through Australian closets.
As I make my pilgrimage back to Singapore this December, I will revisit my childhood stomping grounds. While everything may seem smaller now that I am about three feet taller, I can still see a five year old perched on a stool and leaning out of the corner windows, recounting past adventures on the train to Malaysia.
|That’s the unit. The flat has been extensively remodeled
and the corner windows are gone now.
I also remember hanging a hand-made stocking by my bed on Christmas eve though I never did wake up with anything in it (I blamed it on the scarcity of fireplaces and chimneys in tropical Singapore then). I get nostalgic thinking about that one-bedroom (which I am sure is still missing a fireplace) home because of the childlike innocence I experienced there.
I drive by my first apartment in Oklahoma City on a weekly basis and I still remember many things about it. But like Suh’s fabric installation, I am able to see, through the brick walls, a twenty-something staring into an empty kitchen pantry with anxiety flooding within him. That sinking feeling was quickly replaced by a sense of peace that God will provide all my needs in this once foreign land. I fondly remember the two-story apartment as a home where I experienced the love of God through His children in a community that I now also call my family.
|My first apartment was on the second level on the back of the building.|
“As you approach the gallery space, my translucent piece is between the viewer and the longer view, so it becomes five homes-within-homes: my two homes inside; the museum; the palace; and then Seoul.” – Suh explained the title of his sculpture, “Home Within Home Within Home Within Home Within Home“.
Whenever I get a chance to return to Singapore for a visit, I get very sentimental about the two places I now call home. If you have read all the way to this point expecting a climatic conclusion, you might be disappointed. My “blabberings” (and I don’t write often) is more for me than anyone else. If you know me from Singapore, you got a little glimpse of my start in Oklahoma City. If you know me from Oklahoma City, you should come visit Singapore with me sometime.
What’s my home within home within home within home with home? It would have to be …