Designer aiming to personify his vision

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Designer aiming to personify his vision

To demonstrate the visual power of Sony’s new 42 inch-wide televisions, the electronics firm hired two Korean artists to produce a digital art exhibition at the Gana Art Gallery in Pyeongchang-dong, northern Seoul.
The show featured colorful paintings juxtaposed with fresh grass. The flat-screen monitors, meanwhile, were mounted against glass panels lit in green.
One of the artists, Kim Jom-son, a graduate of Hongik University Graduate School, spliced together video images of familiar, vividly colored objects in nature. The other artist, Ma Young-beom, designed the installation space.
Mr. Ma, an award-winning interior designer and an adjunct professor of interior design in Kyungwon University, spoke to the JoongAng Daily at his studio, So Gallery in southern Seoul. He discussed the importance of design in his life while lounging in vintage ’60s-style furniture.

What are you trying to show through your installation?
The quality of a flat screen television is so refined that it can project the realistic image of fine art works. When the plasma screen was first introduced, it was chic and light ― you could hang it in the wall like a picture, but if you wanted to watch a movie like “Matrix,” the quality was terrible. Now you can not only enjoy the great looks but also the quality of the image.
The new TV comes with a clear stand and frame, which give a greater sense of depth in space. So I overlapped several screens for a three-dimensional effect. The result is beautiful color works on TV screens that seem to be floating in mid-air.

You’re known for designing chic cafes in Apgujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong.
I’ve lived and worked in this area for 15 years. Having trained as a painter in the fine arts, I never thought I would do something so commercial as interior design. I was in a deep slump when I saw an end to my career as a painter ― and I decided to party, I mean, party hard.
With friends, I opened a cafe, one of the first cafes in Apgujeong-dong, nearly 10 years ago. There were hardly any interior designers then, so I decided to do it myself. I bared the ceiling, put some funky chairs and hung some cool posters.
The next thing I knew, a prestigious design magazine put the photo of my cafe on the cover. I also opened Korea’s first gallery specializing in posters. That space also became an issue among designers in town. When small cafes sprang open in the area, I experimented with free-style ideas and materials in sort of an underground way.
My real break came when the fashion designer Lee Young-hee asked me to design her new boutique in Cheongdam-dong in the early ’90s. Because I wanted to incorporate traditional Korean elements into a sleek, Western-style interior, I had to create something entirely new. No one before me had ever done such a thing. Traditional Korean elements had been largely ignored in the modern interior design field. The project got me a lot of attention and awards, and Korean design students began to research how to infuse Korean elements into modern concepts.
At the designer’s boutique, traditional Korean-style mud walls and brown earthen jars in the lawn were seen through clear glass walls, which was supposed to be the Korea’s past and the minimal space of the shop was what was meant to be the present. My space usually has that time flow, from past to present.

What’s important to you?
A designer and his work should be true to each other. His designs should not be separated from his life.
Many people fall into a fixed idea of what design should be or is. I’ve seen Korean travelers bring back beautiful objects from Europe. Even if the item was made to be used in the kitchen, they display it in the living room. Which means, they are not familiar with the culture of the object.
The concept of design should be much closer to practicality of everyday human life. A vacuum-packed plastic pouch of powdered milk recently won a design competition in London. When the pouch is immersed in any kind of liquid, it absorbs the water to make real milk. That is the kind of genuine, breakthrough idea that has changed the way that designers perceive design today.

What do you think contemporary people want?
A well-known Korean apparel company asked me to do the design for an exclusive area. Most designers would have suggested a posh shopping mall, but that’s passe. I suggested they buy five tiny stores in a less-expensive area and create a street so shoppers could breathe the air, walk on the grass and just enjoy shopping around. People want to feel the real thing, be in touch with reality. That’s why, instead of fake grass, I used real grass in the Sony exhibition space.

by Ines Cho
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