'DESIGN' Seoul

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A group of young designers, (who are students at the graphic design department of Seoul National University), have been intervening in urban space by putting stickers on top of city branding advertisement and various urban hacking.

The current government and the city of Seoul has been rebranding Seoul as a ‘DESIGN’ capital of the world. The word design has been used to justify gentrification and development, sometimes by taking away space from the lower income citizens. Also various design strategies have been used to brainwash, terms like ‘I Like Seoul’ ‘Seoul is DESIGN’ is ubiquitous around the city. Its effect is thus making of boring space, not unlike other Asian megapolis. Seoul is an intricately layered matrix of different style, speed, and time. It’s beauty was it’s contradictions and diversity. By ‘DESIGN’ing seoul, the state is making the urban space an abstract machine of control and production, and leaving less space for freedom of expression and cultural production. The effect of design is prevalent in demolition and protest at Yong San district, reconstruction of Chunggye chun, and the notorious ‘Seoul Design Olympic’ and ‘World Design Capital’ events.

Young designers are responding to the matter in an engaging and controversial manner. It is pleasantly surprising as the notion of designers in Seoul are the ones who don’t care for social matter, but work as the machine for production (at least that is the idea of DESIGN as the city’s largest design campaign promotes). One group, called ‘Hatch men’ have been communicating with the people via social network system such as twitter. They print out comments on adhesive paper, and put it on top of advertisements and slogans. The effect is a strange mix of humor and critical intervention of graphic images in urban space. Thus the smiling faces of models with word bubbles are saying “I only like Seoul, when I can dislike it as well”  “I only like South of river (new developed district)” “Seoul is under construction 365 days”. Their process is well documented in website as well as youtube. . They have said their idea got inspiration from Ji Lee’s Bubble project.

Soon after they gained some publicity and praise as well as critical reflection, ‘Hatch men’ were summoned for damaging public property. Their tweets and interview tells that they were questioned ‘Who is behind the act’, as if there is an ulterior political force behind the intervention. This incident is well representative of the neo liberal government’s limits of imagination and love for control. The designers are still enthusiastic about intervention, and planning next series using video projection and inflatable text bubbles. Inspiration from past works of G.R.L and F.A.T lab, especially Aram Barthol is apparent.

The price of ‘DESIGN’ing Seoul is the loss of the city’s essence and beauty. As many of extreme developments take place, and sometimes fail to be completed, as in the case of Yong San, city is left with defunct advertisements and propaganda. One can wonder what difference is there from North Korean propaganda saying ‘We are happy’. It is hopeful that designers are creating space of discourse and debate. While the incumbent government is doing it’s thing to raise real estate value and control culture industry, it is the right time for artists, architects, musicians to work against unjust development under the name of ‘DESIGN’ and ‘Green development’.