Performing Letters, Performers of Letters
Barakat Seoul is proudly presenting “Performing Letters, Performers of Letters,” an exhibition exploring the points of contact between ancient types of writing and contemporary typography.
In Eastern and Western civilization, visual imagery has been at the origin of inscriptions and written communication. Ancients cultures depicted their yearnings as well as aspects of their daily lives through forms and objects and such representations gradually developed into scripts after undergoing processes of simplification and interpretation. Writing is a method of communication that visualizes beliefs, ideas, language and emotion with signs and symbols and a medium that assist with human interaction and allows the development of written history. In the not too distant past, the knowledge and skill to be able to read and write was a sign of power and authority, with specific texts being considered sacred because they held metaphysical meanings. In consequence, those who used writing promoted and advanced education and culture, and writing was employed for a number of different purposes.
Ancient texts were used for practicality, were appreciated from an aesthetic point of view and were furthermore employed in a number of religious activities. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs are representative pictograms and were used in funerary texts, such as the Book of the Dead , entombed along with the deceased. This collection of illustrated written spells and prayers offered information on the journey in the afterlife and were valued as an art form. The prayers were also performed during rituals relative to resurrection and rebirth. In other words, texts were devised to transform verbal communication into a written language, which has been perceived as an art form, often possessing .extraordinary godlike power.
In reflecting a human need for self-expression, text and imagery have a shared origin. However, as the process of simplification for practical reasons became universal, written form evolved over a long period as to finally become more simple and abstract in appearance. Especially as the boundary between text and imagery became clear, they developed an independence of expression from one another. With the passage of time, the practical aspect of written communication became more prominent in everyday life, with their initial aesthetic and ritual roles becoming subservient to other fields of human development, such as art, religion, and science.
Nevertheless, in the long course of universal history, the need for writing is in a state of continuous aesthetic development. At Medieval monasteries in Europe, scribes considered the manual transcription of the Bible to be holy labor and added to the text decorative initials and miniatures, creating illuminated manuscripts. In the Islamic tradition, the exclusion of pictorial representations of Allah and the emphasis given on the sacred text of the Quran led to the development of calligraphy, an art form based on writing. The calligraphic culture of East Asia also developed within the concept of shuhua dongyuan, or the common roots of text and imagery. Today this tradition of an art form based on writing continues through those who continue to embrace and convey its spirit, namely typography designers.
Typography is the technique of artistically making written language legible, based on the arrangement of type. When focusing on the aesthetic presence of texts over their practical sense, then typography allows the act of writing to be read beyond its literal meaning. In that sense, artisans of the past who were able to attain artistic integrity through their achievements, share common ground with contemporary typography artists.
In the same way, ancient texts, which once were tools of transmitting information, and documents in contemporary typography are accompanied by a performance on different levels. The juxtaposition of typography artists and ancient inscribed artworks allows for the connection of these works to be taken into consideration.
The exhibition “Performing Letters, Performers of Letters” aims to evoke the artistic and ritual nature of texts. The contemporary typography artists, Ahn Sang-soo, Nojisu, and Rhee Pooroni, presented in this exhibition, go beyond the mere role of writing as a simple performance for the purpose of conveying information but wish to restore writing to the level of culture.
This becomes particularly obvious with Ahn Sang-soo, who shares the concept of tracing the archetypes of writing from the times when text and imagery were once what typography had become today. Ahn Sang-soo has collaborated with important personalities in the fields of poetry, art, philosophy and religion but also with environmental activists and has always maintained a strong tendency towards questioning and analysis, by visiting sites where ancient scripts are kept, by tracking down the archetypes of writing and by trying to find the truth shared by civilisations. Thus interweaving different areas and eras, his wide trajectory has resulted into a modern revival of the cultural significance of ancient texts, as methods of seeking and possessing the truth, in addition to the modern invention of typography. Nojisu and Rhee Pooroni will be introduced as artists-designers, which based on the foundations and the legacy of artists producers of images, such as Ahn, have created and expanded further the boundaries of their artistic universe.
“Performing Letters, Performers of Letters” is the first experiment in a series of exhibitions which the Barakat Seoul will be looking into presenting in the future, striving to conceive and develop exhibitions which will enrich the audience’s imagination by bringing together a number of artists from different disciplines and artworks inspired by the Barakat Seoul awe-inspiring collection of ancient art.
Ahn Sang-soo (1952-)
Ahn Sang-soo is a South Korean visual communications designer and academic.
After graduating from the Department of Visual Communication Design (BFA and MFA) of the prestigious Hongik University of Seoul, he received his doctoral degree in the applied arts (DFA) from the Hanyang University of Seoul with a dissertation on “A Typographic Study of Yi Sang’s Poetry” (1996) and an honorary doctorate’s degree from the Kingston University, in South-West London.
On developing the design of Han’geul, the traditional Korean alphabet, Ahn masterminded the revolutionary transition into a functional contemporary medium by presenting in 1985 the graphic flexibility of the Ahn Sang-soo font, a non-square Han’geul font, a meritorious contribution which brought him an award by the Korean Language Society in 1988. In 2007, he received the Gutenberg Award, a distinguished award which recognises exceptional achievements in the field of graphic design, from the German city of Leipzig.
He was professor in the Department of Visual Communication Design at the Hongik University from 1991 to 2013, in which same year he founded the Paju Typography Institute (PaTI), an alternative school of design that focuses on the creative spirit of writing and and traditional culture rooted in Han’geul. While preserving the heritage of traditional painting and East Asian calligraphy with his achievements in the field of typography, Ahn has continued, at the same time, to ponder on the identity of South Korean culture and design. His philosophy regarding Han’geul and the art of design in general is revealed through a series of extremely successful experiments with a diversity of forms such as type design, typography, editorial design, wall drawings, installation works, performances, and screen printing.
Ahn has held numerous exhibitions, both in Korea and abroad, which include the Rodin Gallery in 2002, the Leipzig Museum der Bildenden Künste in 2007, the Parisian Galerie Anatome and the Klingspor-Museum in the German city of Offenbach am Main in 2008, Une Saison Graphique, the yearly festival of contemporary graphic design hosted by the French town of Le Havre in 2013 and the Seoul Museum of Art in 2017. Many of his works are housed in prominent museums such as the Seoul Museum of Art, the Musée des Arts décoratifs of Paris, the National Hangeul Museum, the Gwangju Biennale of South Korea and the Klingspor-Museum.
Born in Seattle, Nojisu is a Visual Communications Designer based in Seoul.
He received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the renowned University of California Berkeley and a master’s degree in Graphic Design from the equally illustrious Rhode Island School of Design. Currently, Nojisu works as an assistant professor at the Hongik University of Seoul and is an active member of both the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), a club of the world's leading graphic artists and designers, and the Korean Society of Typography. Since 2010, he has conducted research on the visual culture and the history of visual communication design in South Korea, has experimented with typography using the Han’geul alphabet, and has published Ondol: A Few Warm Stones, a collaborative project focusing on Korean graphic design history, contemporary discourse and experiments in Han’geul typography. While conducting broad research on design writing, visual communication design and typography, he has nonetheless continued to be active across fields which include editorial design, branding, advertising and motion graphics. In particular, he recently conducted a number of projects which explore the concept and interpretations of “Korean” space through experiments with diverse media such as poster design and architectural structures. Nojisu is the recipient of numerous awards from a numbers of organizations and creative competitions both nationally and internationally, including the Type Directors Club (TDC) in New York City, the Communication Arts Typography Annual, the Korean Society of Typography, the Cannes Cyber Lions, which is the world’s biggest festival for creative and marketing communications, and Webby Awards, the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet. Many of his works are currently housed in well-known museums such as Die Neue Sammlung (the International Design Museum in Munich), the Musée des arts décoratifs of Paris and the National Hangeul Museum in Seoul.
Rhee Pooroni (1979-)
Rhee Pooroni is an illustrator and a visual communications designer who produces images. Born in Seoul, she had her primary and secondary education in Jordan and majored in painting from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. She then received her master and doctoral degrees in visual communication design from the College of Fine Arts at the Seoul National University. Rhee has explored stories relative to nature, animals and plants, images depicting and signs symbolizing all of the above and images of landscapes which include their metamorphosis.
In recent times, Rhee has created narrative images where images, signs, forms, and landscapes are recorded and arranged in a manner akin to that of musical scores. In 2008, Rhee was selected as a “Next Generation Design Leader” by the MKE (Ministry of Knowledge Economy and as a “Craft & Design Star Product” designer by the Korea Craft & Design Foundation. She has participated in numerous exhibitions at venues including the Doosan Art Center, the Shinsegae Department Store, the Seoul Arts Center, the Seongnam Arts Center, the Lotte Gallery, the Seoul National University Museum of Art and the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and produced visual identity and logo designs, along exhibition design works, for a number of influential corporations and organizations.
She currently works as an assistant professor of visual communication design in the School of Design at the Hongik University.