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ahn sang-soo’s salm.letters.[]
ahn sang-soo’s salm.letters.[] 安尙秀‘s 活-字.
- 2018-03-15 ~ 2018-06-20
- White Gallery, Xue Xue, Taipei, Taiwan
Organizers and sponsors:
Xue Xue Foundation, Seoul Museum of Art
This exhibition is initiated from Seoul Museum of Art for focusing on the pioneer of Korean
typography and graphic design history in Korea, Ahn Sang-soo. The exhibition is not only retrospective on Ahn’s unique and varied design practice from the ahn sang-soo font released in 1985 up to the letter works of present date, but also respectfully connecting his design philosophy weaved by varied activities including design publications, organizing cultural initiatives and the commitment to education through the Paju Typography Institute (PaTI) which Ahn has opened 6 years ago in the book city of Paju together with numbers of younger designers and educators in Korea.

Entitled as salm.letters [活字], this exhibition explores the works done by designer Ahn Sang-soo centered on letters. Ahn Sang-soo, as a representative designer in Korea, has always worked on creating and practicing around letters. To him, letters are “living organisms” or “living things”, just like the Chinese character 活 refers to. He believes that all the creations with letters, such as a book as a bind of letters, exist together in the net of a living universe hold by vast amount of knowledge and signs. The receiving procedure itself is however like “infusing life into a lifeless thing”. Ahn’s anguish and impulse, as an artist, however is probably approaching the transcendental sense of letters as pure images and experiments as they provide the ultimate resonance beyond the meaning.

This exhibition especially emphasizes East Asian letter culture as a key issue to bound the region closer with the spirit of harmony and inter-connection. The cultures of East Asia, including Korea, China, Taiwan and Japan, are tied by the common character we refer to as “Chinese letters”, but of course today the true nature of the letter culture bears a different status in each country. Chinese letters among others, which is located in the east of the Eurasian Continent, are based on a multi-level structure that has roots in hieroglyphic features. Therefore, they belong to a complicated semiotic system which does not fix the matrix. While simple Romanized alphabet type led to the creation of the Internet era, Chinese and Korean alphabets are still questioning on their suitability to internet settings, specifically within the issue of economical efficiency. The commissioned work, Tao de Ching tiles suggest us the future to typography and design in East Asian culture from the aspect of character systems and the most profound philosophy commonly shared in East Asian region. Ahn’s letters are probably searching for one undivided truth at the root of all things, just like what Taoism teaches us.

While Chinese belongs to “an isolating language” of a single morpheme system, Korean consists of polysyllables and belongs to the Ural Altaic “agglutinative language (characterized by application of postposition or change of affixes)”. At the same time, Korean is very complex, composed of about 1,000 syllables because the basic principle of “speaking” made the shape of the Hangul letters. In Room 1 at the White Gallery of Xue Xue, there are two different versions of Tao de Ching composed in two different language; Chinese and Korean, and they provide us a chance to face to the “difference” of these two languages. The concept of ‘difference’ itself is the core spirit of Korean language, Hangul when it was first created to be different than the Chinese domination in East Asian region of the time. The ‘difference’ has been also the indication for Ahn in his design philosophy, as well as it also provokes a similar way of creating symbols or logos; that we try to arrange it in a simple form to make it as functional (readable) as possible, but at the same time searching for the “redundancy” that might be connected with beauty, richer communication and ultimate resonance.

Departing from this living element within letters that is containing the source of life, the exhibition also explores Ahn’s past creations and activities. From opening the first internet cafe in Korea with his lifelong friend and sculptor gum nuri to his eight thousand plus collection of one.eye photographs, the designer is one of the most active Korean creatives in the global community. The clout of Ahn’s contributions to Korean typography has granted him numbers of awards including Designer of the Year from Design Magazine from as early as 1983, recipient of the GRAND PRIX from ZGRAF 8 in 1998, and the 2007 Gutenberg Prize. He continues to educate young designers at Hongik University, and this commitment on the education went further by opening the education cooperative and designers community, Paju Typography Institute in 2012. In addition, Ahn disseminates his radical innovations through the publication of the experimental art and culture magazine bogoseo/bogoseo [report/report], which he started in 1988, also with his friend gumnuri. In 2017, Seoul Museum of Art invites Ahn Sang-soo to appreciate his lifelong achievement and ongoing practice, and he then introduces a significant changes of concept with the series of new letter paintings, hollyeora (心流) [be immersed]. This series goes against the ‘Korean Modernism’ accomplished by the ahn sang-soo font when he pulled Hangul out from its entrapment in the frame of tradition of Chinese characters and evokes again the time of tradition of Chinese characters which had existed before Hangul was born. The letters become a kind of secret code and incantation that calls forth memories of a future that is soon to come. And this perception reminds us of letters containing something beyond the visible dimension and means of communication.

Ahn’s achievement and influence is variety and even infinite throughout forms of book design, editorial design, font design, logotype and poster design that are all centered by letters, as well as devoted himself on publication, writing and education. These numerous practice is actually rooted on the spirit of design itself, which connects arts with technology, and ‘poetry’ with the world. This spirituality and aesthetics of movement reminds us of the European art and culture history during early 20th century when modern design first came into the world. However, Ahn’s typography is not only limited in simple engineering and aesthetic issue. His typography is about designing a frame of liberation on human life and spirit throughout Hangul as the embodiment of ethnic and humane idea. We sincerely hope that the exhibition opens up varied access to connect with the spirituality of typography as an ultimate language of art.