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Jeonghwa Seo: "I have never made anything without a function."


Jeonghwa Seo: "I have never made anything without a function."

They might look like sculptures, but they're not. Sitting idly in the space of the historical palazzo known as the "House of Demons" Jeonghwa Seo's Untitled collection of tables and stools looked familiar yet totally fresh. Their candy-licious "toppings" of red, blue and green with contrasting metal base of brass, oxidised copper and cast aluminium was indeed a style that he has been known for since his Material container collection in 2013.  

Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, Seo was first educated in the Metal art and design department of Hongik University. Then he moved on to Design Academy Eindhoven in The Netherlands for his Master's degree. His pieces are imbued with elements of Eastern culture, as well as being influenced by Western design history. His style is focused on the classical principles of design, such as form, structure and contrasting materiality which he explores through a fusion of observation, instinct and logic.

We catch up with him after the end of Unsighted show for an exclusive interview.

Untitled, a series of tables and stools presented at the Unsighted show.

Your work is more sculpture than design. Would you agree with that statement? Do you consider yourself a designer or an artist? Or both? How so?

I do not agree. Sculptures do not have functions. I have never made anything without a function.  However I agree with many people who describe artistic furniture as useful sculpture. When I make things I always think about if people can actually use it, not just see.  But if people buy my works and never sit on it will be sculpture. Also if you buy sculpture at an art auction and set on or have a meal on it, people start to see it as furniture. I do not see the boundaries between artists and designers.

Tell us more about your participation at the Unsighted show in Milan. How did this show come about and why did you choose the pieces you've shown?

The space and participants were not informed to designers because that was part of the concept of the exhibition. It was ‘Unsighted’ with intention. The curator Nicolas (Bellavance-Lecompte) wanted designers to plan new works without any information about the exhibition. I just choose the works that I was planning to do this year.  The transparent colours matched with layers on the materials were my interest at that time. 5VIE organised the show. And Nicolas chose international designers for the show. He just called me and emailed me to inform about the show about 5 months before the show begins. We discussed which works to show.

Sketches of the Untitled series.

What's the biggest challenge in creating these pieces? It seems like they're a new version of your previous work 'Structure for Use'?

Yes, the shapes came out from the Structure for Use series. The biggest challenge was to find the proper transparency of the acrylic. Some of the acrylics are dyed, and some of them are cast for these adjustments. I hope it ended up with a decent layering of material and colours.  

Your previous designs seem to play on a lot of different materials. Where did this fascination towards material come about? And what is your favourite material? Why?

I am keen on placing and displaying materials from which I get inspiration. It is almost like a collection of the materials. I like to look around things including not only natural materials but also industrially developed materials, and even old and new products. The feelings and touches of the materials are actually embedded in everything that surrounds us. I wanted to expand the tactilities in the space we are living in by using more and more diverse materials. I like the harmonies of materials because it sometimes creates synergy. Matching materials is one of the most creative works that humans can do.

Various prototypes and material samples at Seo's studio.

Your works are mostly presented via gallery or in a gallery setting. Do you ever want to create an industrial product for a brand? Why (not)?

Yes, I wish to create products if I have the chance. I think it is the same reason why I create works. I like to play with material and form with function. I also want my creations to have a functional and aesthetic benefit for people. The most interesting thing about working on industrial products is quantity. The more quantity with lower price will enable my thoughts and ideas regarding design to affect a broader range of people.  

How do you describe your design aesthetic?

My aesthetics is the result of finding proper balances of things and concepts.

Where do you find your inspiration?

a. Observation of things surrounds me.
b. Reading books regarding design and architecture.  
c. Other designers' works who I admire.

Different versions of Seo's Material Container Series. Also available on our site.

You've studied in Eindhoven and are now based in Seoul.  What made you want to be based here? What are the advantages?

Seoul is a huge city. Seoul includes and is surrounded by lots of factories and workshops which is very crucial for fabricating things.

What's a typical working day for you like?

I go to the workshop at around 10 am. I check emails and read some news on the internet. Then I work on what is needed on that day like drawing things on paper at the beginning stage of new works or projects. I go to the the workshop when I need to order or just to observe things. I like being hands on when fabricating things at my studio.

Where will we see you next?

I do not have a plan for any international show yet.

For more about Seo, you can visit here, and his products listed at The Artling is here.

Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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