What is home?
Is it the building you live in? The way you place the things you cherish? The community where you live, love, work, and play? The memories you carry with you from place to place? The people you love—even when they aren’t with you?
Several summers ago, I had the pleasure of discovering, with my family, the artist Do Ho Suh’s brilliant examination of the concept of home, at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center. We were in Cincinnati at a gathering of far flung family to celebrate a wedding. So this exhibit, aptly described as a meditation on the idea of home, migration, and identity in a global society, really, well, hit home for me.
We walked through life-sized, gauzy, see-through fabric replicas of houses, sewn together with precision and including intricate details, from doorknobs to balusters to sprinklers. Into darkened rooms with highlighted fabric appliances, a microwave, a toilet. We walked through passageways, stairwells, literally walking through Suh’s memories of places he has lived.
Suh was born in Korea, moved to the US in his late 20’s, and now spends time in Seoul, London and New York. He is known for sculptures, large installations, and works that inspire thinking about personal and public spaces. His personal travels have influenced his exploration of the individual in a global community, affected by migration, and the importance of the memories we carry with us. And nostalgia for those people and places we have left behind.
As I walked by beautifully crafted transparent staircases that looked almost real, almost solid, but which you couldn’t ascend, I thought about my memories of the house I grew up in and the details that told the story of my childhood.
Built around the time of the American Revolution, on the side of a small mountain in New Hampshire, the house has hand hewn beams, and handmade nails, and iron latches on some of the doors, and a dirt cellar. It transformed over time with new developments, as the house was inherited by two brothers and split apart and added onto again, creating the occasional oddly spaced room. It was a farmhouse, a convalescent home, possibly apartments, and then a summer home. Plus, if you believe in such things, haunted.
When my parents bought it in the ‘70’s it had weeds up to the second story windows and no indoor plumbing. They cut down the weeds, finding, among other things, a Volkswagen Bug on blocks, had plumbing installed, a well dug, and then started fixing it up, little by little.
I was three when we moved in, and my childhood was filled with freedom, nature and fascinating discoveries. Peeling layers of wallpaper to finally reveal the original stenciling on the walls. A cow’s tooth. Plaster made with horsehair and insulation made from corncobs. An Indian Head nickel in the dust. Old schoolbooks from the early 1900’s. A diary.
I would “help” my Dad do endless projects with my own real, child-sized hammer. My grandparents would visit from New Jersey and New York and help wallpaper the kitchen in brightly colored flowers, or cut down trees for firewood. At night, I would lay on my bed and find shapes in the colorful batiked material that my Mom made to decorate my walls until they could be refinished, and in the intricate cracks of the ceilings, as I went to sleep. In my mind, anything could be found, created, adapted, or built, with a vision.
I wonder what my children will remember about our home. What details will they keep in their mind that tell their childhood story? What will they carry with them as they travel through their life?
Like Do Ho Suh, I feel compelled to create reminders of home. A snail shell full of everything and everyone of meaning to me that I can carry with me. Photographs are my transparent walls and passageways between the past, present and future. For me, and for my children, to remember, wherever they go.
Where is home for you?
What do you carry with you?
Share your thoughts below…
Apr 28, 2021