Dutch graphic design duo Simone Trum and Loes van Esch, TEAM THURSDAY held an exhibition this past February about Korean graphic design in Rotterdam. POSTER POLYGLOT was a presentation of 42 posters designed by 21 Korean designers. We chatted with the former MMCA residents about how they collected the posters and more!
Interview: Mino Witte, Photography: Simone Trum & Loes van Esch
Why did you come to Korea for an art residency? Was THERE something in particular you wanted to achieve in Korea?
TEAM THURSDAY: We’d been to Seoul before, for the Typojanchi 2015 biennale. The things we saw in (street)culture and at the festival, the Hangul letters everywhere and the people we met kept hanging in our heads, so when we heard about the residency opportunity we applied immediately. I think, for us it was also really about staying in Seoul, not staying just anywhere out of The Netherlands. We were curious for the Korean design scene and the culture. We didn’t have a specific ‘goal' in mind; actually our goal was to just not have one in the beginning. But towards the end of the residency, when we decided we wanted to make an exhibition and also worked on two assignments in Korea, it was very nice to notice the speed of production. It was something we couldn’t think of before— for instance, in The Netherlands, it takes at least 1.5 years or so to realize a public sculpture. Here we made one in just 4 months from start till actual placement of the sculpture (it’s a steel 2x3m sculpture, or three-dimensional poster as we like to call it, in Ilsan Park, Goyang).
We’ve heard that Korean graphic design is heavily influenced by Dutch and Nordic design. Given your background, at first glance what was your
impression of Korean graphic design?
TEAM THURSDAY: As Dutch graphic designers we recognize and appreciate the direct and playful approach in Korean design (in general). There’s a certain lightness and no-nonsense way of graphic design, bold and avoiding compromises. I think those characteristics are also to be seen in Dutch graphic design. We also noticed while visiting studios and talking to Korean designers that they know a lot about Dutch graphic designers, books and schools.
Overall, do you think that art is approached differently in Korea than in the Netherlands? What is the general mood of the graphic design
community in Korea?
TEAM THURSDAY: We find it a bit hard to say something about that in general— after all, we stayed for 5 months which is also quite short to really dive in and understand a certain community and we were really outsiders. But we met super enthusiast and great designers during our stay, who were realizing so many nice projects. In the NL, it can be a bit hard nowadays to realize a bigger project when working as an individual designer of small studio. But in Seoul we saw many big projects for art institutions realized by fairly small studios, that’s a great thing I think, to be able to work on projects like that. And people are organizing a lot themselves, which we like too, there’s a good va-voom energy hanging around. Also— in the NL, graphic design is more and more referred to as ‘communication’ by commissioners, which means the communication of a certain item is the most important. We like to think that a great artistic work also communicates something which can be a lot more interesting and feel more layered in a way. In Seoul, it seemed to us that this was a bit more possible (but still this was our outside view so we are not totally sure). The posters and visuals we saw on the streets were all very interesting. Also it kind of seems that graphic design and art are worlds that can merge a bit more fluent than in our country, where there are many unwritten rules about this combination.
About "Poster Polyglot"...Why did you begin to collect posters in Korea?
TEAM THURSDAY: We started to collect them because we wanted to show something in The Netherlands of the graphic design we saw in Seoul, and we think posters are quite a good medium for that because it’s a fairly easy medium to understand and look at. I think we started by visiting JAEMIN LEE (Studio
FNT) and he kindly gave us 2 posters. After that we kind of speeded through Seoul with a poster tube on our backs (sometimes even trying to ride a bicycle but in the end that felt a bit dangerous). It was also a great way for us to sneak a peek into graphic design studios (we might be a bit nosy), almost
everyone we asked was super kind to give us posters.
Are you a fan of any Korean graphic artist in particular? Please tell us about your impression of their work!
TEAM THURSDAY: We are fan of the work of many Korean graphic designers... we had so many nice conversations and meet-ups, it was really pleasant to be on the other side of the world but talk about design in a very same way. We spent some time hanging in the studio of KIM KYOUNGTAE, a photographer we met a while ago in Italy and who takes such good pictures. We really appreciate his work for the thoughtfulness that is in it, and the concentration. He manages to photograph a stack of architecture books as if it was a building, and a collection of stones as if it are the most desirable objects on the planet.
What was the most interesting conclusion you gathered after observing & gathering Korean posters?
TEAM THURSDAY: The posters we collected all look like they’re made in a very ‘free’ way. It looks like the designers could take the space in the assignment to experiment with typography and form. It seems that the commissioners were not afraid of playfulness and experimentation; that they appreciate artistic freedom. We find it hard sometimes to find this free zone in commissioned assignments, we have a lot of conversations about the communicative value of our designs with commissioners. Next to this, we thought it was quite nice to see some differences in treating a poster as object (many posters were printed double sided, either because of a bilingual reason or just with two different designs, this is not something that happens a lot in The Netherlands) and sometimes similarities in a kind of design language. Also the translation of the posters meaning into a design is with many posters done in a fascinating way, a lot of the time through typography or working with the two different languages in one image.
What reactions did you get from the visitors of "Poster Polyglot"?
TEAM THURSDAY: Almost half of the visitors of the exhibition were Korean designers, which really surprised us. They came from The Hague and Amsterdam to see the work of designers they know or friends. Many people saw a link with Dutch graphic design-— we talked about how it would be nice to see the posters mixed with Dutch designed posters to see how it would merge. Many didn’t know a lot about Korea (I think in general in The Netherlands, Korea is a country people don’t know a lot about) and its design scene and were surprised about the diversity and quality of all designs. We got many reactions on the most ‘abstract’ posters—- the ones without type. That might be also because they stood out amongst the other posters with text. We expected to have more reactions on the Hangul type (who are to us also very abstract too) but people kind of accepted those without question.
Interest in graphic design is growing in Korea. For example, the Seoul Art Book Fair has doubled in attendance these past two years. What are your feelings about this? Is it parallel to a global trend?
TEAM THURSDAY: And we think interest for Korean design from outside of Korea is growing as well. Korea feels a bit hidden in a way, there are many Korean students studying abroad but not so much the other way around. It would be great if this would happen more the other way around, too. To us it seems in Korea the graphic design scene is especially lively. There is a certain energy that feels very fresh. Maybe it’s because—compared to the Netherlands— the field of graphic design is still quite young and there are a lot of new initiatives and events being developed at the moment, like the WOOWHO exhibition that just ran at SEMA about female Korean graphic designers. But partly it will also be because we felt really welcomed and we came fresh out of The Netherlands dipping into this new (design) culture for some time, so everything felt even more exciting to us.
We will probably come back to Seoul in May to participate in a lecture at MMCA, so we’re looking forward to that!