Typeface artist truly a font of creativity

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Typeface artist truly a font of creativity

For Ahn Sang-soo, a typeface is not only a decorative tool to satisfy the design element. As Korea's pre-eminent typography artist, Ahn describes his graphic work as "a measure to find the figurative identity." A typeface for him is a tool creating image and text that conveys a full meaning.

Ahn has been working with letters since the early '80s, when few typefaces for the Korean alphabet were available. By rearranging the strokes of the vowels and consonants of hangul, the Korean alphabet, Ahn invented a host of typefaces that broke the alphabet out of its conventional square frame.

A new retrospective profiling the artist's 25-year career as a graphic designer, Ahn Sang-soo: Imagining Hangul, is on exhibit at the Rodin Gallery. The show contains some 40 pieces, including posters, letter works, books and installation.

The exhibition is roughly divided into four major parts, and covers many prints of graphic works that Ahn designed for various cultural venues. On display are posters Ahn designed for the Jeonju International Film Festival and art exhibitions such as the Juksan Arts Festival.

In one poster, a promotional work for the Seoul School of Architecture, in the center of the print Ahn made star-shaped cuts, of which the edges were folded outward, giving the work a surprising depth. Through the typeface munjado you can get a glimpse of the artist's ability to translate visual images into material text, or vice versa.

Copies of "Bogoseo/Bogoseo" ("Report/Report"), an alternative art-and-culture magazine that Ahn has been publishing in collaboration with other local artists, are installed in a glass case at the gallery, adjacent to a monitor showing video footage of the artist flipping through its pages. The magazine's stories and interviews of musicians, writers and dancers, conveyed through Ahn's radical editorial compositions and experimental typefaces, not only enable the reader to think beyond the literal content of the story, but also opens up a whole new possibility for typefaces to function as a complete tool for visual communication.

More broadly, the last part of the exhibition deals with the artist's more general practice as a cultural producer and his involvement with photography, poetry and installation art. The section also includes Ahn's body art, including a shot of the artist after he shaved his initials on the back of his head. Titled the "Letter Work: Tribute to Marcel," the work makes a reference to Marcel Duchamp, who also inscribed a star on the back of his head as an artistic statement.

Other notable displays the "Hangul Gate," which is the front gate of the artist's house made of iron hangul typefaces, and "Letters on Emptiness," Buddhist sutra passages carved onto a wooden panel.

As the curator of the exhibition readily acknowledges, Ahn's typefaces have attracted plenty of criticism because of legibility problems. But his contributions toward diversifying Korea's scriptural scape and demolishing the rigidity of hangul in general have won him praise from publishers and designers around the world.

Overall, the exhibition is playful as well as persistent. The show challenges assumptions about how people read and approach text in their everyday lives.

"Ahn Sang-soo: Imagining Hangul" runs through July 21. For more information, call 02-2259-7781.

by Park Soo-mee

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