Nous sommes le 27 novembre, et mon voyage en Corée du sud prend fin demain. Je continuerai malgré tout de publier des interviews de designers que j’ai rencontrés ici à Séoul jusqu’au mois de mars. Cette interview est la dernière que je publierai avant mon retour en France, c’est donc l’occasion de partager avec vous ma rencontre avec Ahn Byung-hak, ce graphiste coréen au parcours plutôt particulier.. Nous nous sommes rencontrés un vendredi alors qu’il était venu conseiller les étudiants de PaTI lors du cours de Minho Kwon « Critical Forum ». J’espère que la lecture de ces lignes vous plaira autant que cette rencontre m’a captivée!
Bien à vous.
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1 – What’s inspiring you to do your own work?
When I introduce myself I say I’m a designer in typography. I am normally inspired by small things around me in my everyday life, by small chat with my family and friends, by sunrise and sunset, even by a special colored rubber band for example. However, when it comes to practical work, I tend to try to do it from my own culture. This is because I lack education. When I was a design student, I just learned about the history and theory of Eastern graphic design instead of Korean history and theory. One of my biggest interests these days is that we surely have had our own design æsthetics, so we need to write Korean design history and document things what we have done so far in order to teach future young designers.
2 – You are working as a graphic designer since 1996 in korea your own country, and then you went in England Royal college of Art in 2010 to come back to school. Why did you choose to do that in England?
Over the preceding ten years, I had worked so hard every day from early morning to late night. I was just exhausted. After that period of time I kind of lost my way as a graphic designer. I realized that I almost was a business owner of my company, not a designer anymore, whose soul was now lost. I seriously needed to find the next step in my life. ‘Why am I designing?’, ‘For what?’. To find out a clue, I decided to give myself a short break and spend a year with my wife and two children in Boston where I wanted to stay someday. During that time, I made a plan to study again. Because I realized that I had been used to convey clients’ messages, to convey their profit without my own voice in most practices. My main concern was how to choose a school which would give me the opportunity to concentrate on my own subjects instead of learning design theories or having normal design classes. RCA was such a place — I could be isolated by myself, apart from all the irritating business. There was no formal compulsory course work or even academic credits. I could just have enough time to fully focus on what I was interested in, what graphic design really is, why I design for, so on. I could also have a wide variety of experience in ways of design — how I could link many people from different cultural, educational and social backgrounds. At the RCA, people come with their own subject, then share the subject in diverse interdisciplinary programs, and explore something new beyond the subject.
3 – You made your dissertation about Ontology and Epistemology for Graphic design: Difference, Emergence, and Assemblage as Ways of Thinking in Multi-cultural Context. Why you made you work on that subject?
I was looking for the way how I could combine different two things in a platform. I believe creative comes up when we only keep stay our feet on the border between different cultures and disciplines. My dissertation is an exploration of ways of thinking that allows us to keep the attitude ourselves. The argument was that graphic design needs to find a mode of practice that makes it more reciprocal to shifts in philosophy and culture. The first part of the dissertation sets out foundations necessary to show the shifts that philosophy/culture have taken and some (mis)conceptions of graphic design. Then the second section sets out three key methodologies through which graphic design might engage with multiplicity – difference, assemblage and emergence. The final section articulates viable and theorized ways forward.
4 – Do you like to work with designers from other country then Korea?
Not just then Korean, I mean I am very eager to work with anyone who has flexible attitude. To me, working with people like that is quite exciting but it’s very hard though. So before collaborate with them, it is very critical to adopt the simple idea of difference. ‘We are all different’. To have better understanding of others, I often bring Eastern and Western philosophical ideas and combine them in an applicable format for my work.
5 – Since I’m in Seoul I saw a lot of korean poster composed in english language even if the event announced by the poster happen in Korea. In old time Korea used chines characters, and I guess when it was a japanese colony maybe korean people used japonese alphabet. So I can imagine that korean people used to use others letters then hangul.. as a korean graphic designer, what is your personal way of using hangul?
Everything. Hangul is like the air. However, under the influences of colonial period, Japanese is familiar for old generation in their age over 70’s, but we never use Japanese in our daily life. Yet we still use Chinese characters as subsidiary use to differentiate homonyms, since we had used Chinese character as a written language (not as a verbal language) by the time King Sejong creates Hangul (588 years ago).
In terms of frequent use of Roman alphabet especially English, yes. we use English a lot. Well, I think there are some reasons but it’s quite tricky to explain. To make it short, Many Korean wants to be excessively globalized and tend to think that they are fully globalized as they use foreign Languages as possible. I think it is a negative influence of the Confucian scholar culture which is still exists in our society. It’s not the only reason for that maybe, but quite true. Parents send their 5 year old children to private English class and young people try to get official English score because English is one of the important spec to get a better job and to go famous university. What more, people keep try to get a high score to achieve a better position in their company even though their actually job position doesn’t necessarily need English skill. Crazy, isn’t it?
6 – What do you think about actual korean graphic designers? Is Seoul is a good place to be a designer?
Culture is a lifestyle pattern conventionalized by a common social customs or systems. Language is one of the key common systems which make a culture. So we cannot even imagine a design separated from culture the result is produced. I born in Seoul and grew up in here Seoul and Korea or more broadly East Asia for me is my cultural background. For this reason, Seoul is definitely a great place to me to be a designer and I hope so. However, because of that culture unfortunately huge corporations like Samsung, LG and SK have too excessively power on our economy as well as design products. They meddle in every process of design rather than giving designer chances and unlimited belief to stimulate imagination. That is not just prompt the corporate culture but also general organization culture in even government or public offices. This is the typical cultural difference from Western culture. In terms of social hierarchy, Seoul Korea wouldn’t be a great place to raise your creativity. But situation have slightly changed. Many young designers start to set their own small studios up within small budge and there have been social diversity matured in positive mood during last years. They try to make their own voices in different styles. That’s good news actually.
7 – As a teacher, working with students inspire you on your own work?
Teaching is another name of learning. I learn a lot in teaching and try to inspire them every time. Also I love students who can inspire me with unexpected questions that I can hardly give them correct answer. As a design teacher, I try to meet them with my knowledge and experience. I never try to convey them what I know rather I always try to keep an eye on what they discover. Then I wait for a while to see the points where their ideas come up and how the ideas are developed as their own methods, looking forward to seeing my students to find what I even don’t know. That is my great pleasure in teaching.
8 – Who is your favorite graphic designer?
Well, I don’t want to use the word ‘favorite’, because it seems have a negative connotation to me, like a word recalling ‘design star’.in business. Rather I could use ‘admire’. I admire Dutch designer Yan Van Toorn, Korean designer Ahn Sang-soo who is my teacher, Adrian Shaughnessy who is my RCA tutor and a Japanese design Sugiura Kohei. I was influenced by those designers not just design aesthetics but also profound thought surrounding design and the world.