The Charleston single house. It’s the Lowcountry’s most ubiquitous piece of architecture. With their faux front doors and breezy piazzas, these buildings are the pride of those who live in them and the envy of those who don’t.
But, in a way, aren’t they really just the 18th-century version of 21st-century tract housing? After all, they’re everywhere. You can’t throw a rock below the Crosstown without hitting one. In another time and place, that would be considered tacky. If they weren’t so precious, wouldn’t they be, dare we say it, kind of monotonous?
Artist Sang-Mi Yoo explores this kind of repetitive real estate in Capriccio (an architectural fantasy). Using laser-cut wool felts and latex paint in vibrant pigments — but also less palpable materials, like gravity and light — Yoo creates large-scale prints of floor plans and illustrations of houses you’d find in West Texas (where Yoo lives currently), South Korea (where Yoo was born), and Northern Ireland (where she completed an artist residency). In the process, these otherwise familiar images are vivisected into something less recognizable.
As a result, Yoo’s work raises a number of important questions: Is the ideal home a tangible subject? Or just an illusion? Yoo first became interested in residential architecture when she watched Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. The pastel-painted houses of Lutz, the Florida town that served as the film’s suburban setting, reminded Yoo of the standardized New Village Movement houses built in the outskirts of Seoul, Korea. In the 1970s, in an effort to modernize the nation’s countryside after the Korean War, thousands of rural villages were streamlined into modern districts. As a result, traditional houses were replaced with contemporary structures, which show up in Yoo’s work as fractured illustrations and warped cut-outs.
It’s a chapter of history is probably unfamiliar to most Americans, Yoo admits, but it won’t be hard to draw parallels between these communities and those much closer to home. “Korean viewers may read that house or floorplan in a particular historical context,” she says. “American viewers may see that house as another tract home in global context.”
But Yoo’s personal memories of her time in these communities are less of architectural details than of barking dogs, dinnertime smoke, and the birds her grandmother used to raise for her livelihood, the things that make a house a home. “To me, the ideal home is very much related to who you live with, rather than what it is,” Yoo says. “Once you are displaced to a different location, the ideal home will never be restored.”
Yoo herself was displaced when she moved to the United States. Now a resident of Lubbock, where she works as an associate professor of art at Texas Tech, Yoo dwells, surprisingly, in the kind of cookie-cutter home she would exhibit in her work. There were a lot of practical factors that led her to settle in a homogenized house — limited choices, price, convenience — but being one among the many isn’t all bad. In fact, it “provides an illusion similar to an animal’s camouflage,” Yoo says. “Living in this house gives me a sense of ‘being an average American.'”
Lubbock is a relatively young city, so Yoo isn’t surrounded by the centuries-old architecture that we may take for granted. She already has plans to photograph Rainbow Row and, of course, the Charleston single house while in the Lowcountry, and it’s possible they’ll show up in her work one day.
Maybe someone should point her in the direction of I’On too. She’d definitely get a kick out of it.