Jae-Sung Chon

MEMORY 1: The half-hour drive from the Toronto airport to my new home, after ‘landing’ in mid-December 1990, was a shocking experience. “Where is everyone?” I wondered,  “It’s only seven o’clock in the evening!” I may have seen at most one or two people on the street during the entire drive. Occasional lights in apartment buildings indicated some presence of life but most of the shops were closed and there was very little activity on the streets. Coming from Seoul, a 24/7 city with more than 12 million people bumping into each other at ever step, Toronto felt like a ghost town, a haunting encounter, a non-experience. This ghostly sense hasn’t really changed much. Canadian cities still feel somewhat empty, although now that I’ve gotten more used to it, I often deliberately look for some ‘encounter’ as I walk, made all the more intense by the emptiness around me.

MEMORY 2: “Where is the wall?” I thought to myself, as I was drawing my first residential project in Canada. I was finding it frustratingly hard to establish a sense of enclosure, and therefore of ‘homeness’ in my drawings. As far as I could tell, all Canadian walls were empty! “These are ‘cavities’ not ‘walls’”, I said to myself. “Walls are supposed to be solid, aren’t they? Not filled with a bunch of sticks!” The walls I knew from Korea were solid cement. This strange sense of ‘unhomely’ was particularly uncomfortable when working on residential projects; I had to somehow construct ‘home-ness’ with ‘cavity’ (hollow) walls. According to my sensibilities, a home starts from ‘solid’ walls, but in this ‘new land’ we have to find ‘home’ somewhere in the midst of porous fences and stick-frame cavity walls. This sense of wall-less-ness lasted for a long time, and still lingers.