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Korea-Japan Design Talk

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Korea-Japan Design Talk, WA: The Spirit of Harmony and Japanese Design Today


On March 12, a special session dubbed “Korea-Japan Design Talk” was held at the Korea Foundation Cultural Center, winding up the exhibition, WA: The Spirit of Harmony and Japanese Design Today (February 12-March 19). The meeting brought together two leading figures from the the design field of the two countries: Professor Ahn Sang-soo and Professor Hiroshi Kashiwagi.

Prof. Ahn is a prominent Korean designer noted for combining traditional and modern Korean design sensibilities into typographical applications, while Prof. Kashiwagi, who served as curator of the exhibition, WA: The Spirit of Harmony and Japanese Design Today, is known for his innovative design concept.

As the audience entered the conference room in ones and twos, a somber atmosphere was readily noticeable due to the news about the devastating earthquake and tsunami that had struck Japan the previous day. Prior to commencing the talk, Prof. Kim Kyoung-kyun of the School of Visual Arts at the Korea National University of Arts, who presided over the session, asked the audience to observe a moment of silence as an expression of sympathy for the victims of the tragic catastrophe. Prof. Kashiwagi then expressed his gratitude to the Korean people for sharing this pain.

Resistance to Mass Product Design

In order to accommodate a larger-than-expected audience, the program started slightly later than scheduled so that everyone could get seated. Prof. Kashiwagi opened the talk with an overview of the background of contemporary Japanese design and its stream, which was accompanied by slide images.
                Prof. Kashiwagi, noting that 20th-century design was characterized by Internationalism and Modernism, said: “As the industrial society flourished, design also came to be mass-produced and mass-consumed. Keeping pace with this trend, designs that could appeal to anyone in any country began to gain popularity. Japan was no exception; its time-honored traditions of proud artisanship and localism suffered damage. But the mass-produced, modern product design could do little to address the problems of social inequality and poverty. Nowadays, the designs created by artists and technicians, through collaborative efforts at small-scale workshops, are steadily gaining momentum.”
                Prof. Ahn agreed with Prof. Kashiwagi, who said, “Isn’t it that the desire for small things has been on the rise, along with the value of small things, as a result of our shared realization of the catastrophic failure of big things?” Ahn continued, “As you can see from this exhibition, Japanese product designs express the caring hearts toward objects.” Prof. Kim also mentioned that he was deeply impressed by the prominent abilities of Japanese designers to embrace and ‘Japanize’ things from abroad.”


Efforts to Achieve Wa in Korean and Japanese Designs

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The talk naturally proceeded to discussion of the similarities and differences between the design of Korea and Japan. “Japan is a closer neighbor than we think, but there exist clear differences between our two countries,” Prof. Ahn said. “For example, Japan devised its , kana, by modifying Chinese characters, while Korea created its , hangeul.”

Prof. Kashiwagi praised Korean design, remarking: “Traditional Korean designs have naturalness, which feels comfortable even though contorted, pleasantly relieved and not hysterical, a trait which cannot be found in Japanese design.” As for the exhibition theme, wa, Prof. Ahn highly assessed Japanese design, by noting: “In Korea, wa (和) is understood as ‘harmony.’ It seems that in Japan as well, it refers to a noble spirit that avoids domination and competition but embraces differences, or even disharmony.”

To wrap up the session, the two speakers agreed that Korea and Japan, as close neighbors sharing many similarities as well as differences, should make efforts to further develop their designs while respecting each other’s achievements. Finally, they expressed their deep respect for each other and their appreciation for the opportunity to exchange their opinions as representatives of the design sector of their respective countries. At the conclusion of the session, both were surrounded by members of the audience who asked numerous questions about the design and culture of both nations.

Choi Kyung-sook

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