Tornado season in California

Kind of chaos

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My favorite installation art piece of all time is Do-ho Suh’s “Fallen Star.” The South Korean sculptor took inspiration from the iconic Judy Garland movie-musical “The Wizard of Oz” and built a little blue house off the side of a building. Seen from the ground, the little blue house looks like it fell from the sky, casting a home-shaped shadow on the pavement below. From the roof of the building, the house looks like a normal, one-story home in a garden that just happens to be floating in mid-air. The inside of the house is meticulously curated with tilting furniture (the house was built at an angle) and windows that look out over a sudden drop. Not unlike Garland’s Dorothy (whose house was dropped into another world by a tornado), Do-ho Suh’s “Fallen Star” explores what it means to navigate the homes we carry with us and the homes we leave behind.

I had an unfortunate senior year of high school. For one thing, there were the wardrobe choices (XXL duckling-yellow sweaters, stickers as face tattoos, construction boots) and for another, there was the poetry. I seemed to be forever writing about unhappy gay teenagers trapped in flower shops or villanelles about the AIDS epidemic. There was my megalomaniac approach to running a literary magazine, my debilitating fear of talking to boys, my habit of forgetting to eat lunch and the curdling impulse to cut my own hair with tiny manicure scissors. I felt like a stock character in a coming-of-age story that didn’t translate past the 90s.

My point is that I turned 18 feeling very lost. I experienced my last semester of high school as an arrestingly punitive measure on the part of the Orange County Board of Education. School had become a choice that I had to follow through with — something contractual. Even when I started getting accepted to colleges, I did not feel the sense of ease and elation that everyone had promised. If anything, I felt more depleted than ever. 

The first college that accepted me was UC San Diego. I distinctly remember driving two hours down the I-5 freeway with my mother to tour the campus, fighting traffic all the way to Oceanside until we lost the light and the will to go any further. It took us another month to make the full trek. In all honesty, there was only one thing that drew me to UCSD: Do-ho Suh’s “Fallen Star.” 

The art installation hangs over the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering and genuinely looks like it was dropped there by a tornado. I remember standing at the base of the building and thinking that it looked smaller than I had imagined. I first heard about Do-ho Suh from my AP Art History teacher (a charming costume designer who came to us mid-semester with the strange habit of lying to students about historical details). I knew that it was supposed to touch on the complicated emotions that surround our ideas of “home.” 

I got off the elevator on the roof of the building and immediately encountered a locked gate. The wind was blowing in off the sea and ruffling the sculpted flora and fauna. I could both see how this would make an incredibly appealing home, and yet still be remote and isolating. I put my hands around the bars and tried to see inside the house. 

The white shuttered windows were drawn. No one was home. 

As you might have guessed, I did not end up going on to UCSD, but I do think of that day with Do-ho Suh’s “Fallen Star” as the first time I believed I was really going to college. Standing at the garden gate, I thought about Dorothy, I thought about “The Wizard of Oz” and I thought about Diana Ross singing “Home” in “The Wiz.” That was the moment that ended my senior year — not graduation, not prom, not a senior sunrise. Just me and an installation art piece that wasn’t open to the public that day. 

When I visited UC Berkeley for the first time as an admitted student, it did feel a bit like I had been dropped from a tornado. But like Dorothy, I was fortunate enough to fall somewhere strange, chaotic and beautiful. 

To quote the immortal Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, “There’s a little Judy Garland in all of us.” 

And in many ways, UC Berkeley has come to feel like a second home. I find myself thinking less and less about Do-ho Suh’s “Fallen Star” and the sensation of being adrift at the end of high school. It’s very convenient to think that that time in my life is over — that just because I no longer cut my own hair with manicure scissors or wear XXL duckling-yellow sweaters, I don’t face the impending chaos of leaving a home behind. But the truth is that leaving UC Berkeley might break my heart. 

And there isn’t an art installation on our campus to capture that. 

Blue Fay writes the Monday arts & entertainment column on the relationship between art and chaos. Contact him at [email protected].