No More ‘Woulda Coulda Shoulda’ : Seungji Mun’s Recent Exhibition at Paradise ZIP, Seoul
Amy Gahyun Lee
Aug 16, 2018
Early in his career 'Cat Tunnel Sofa' demonstrated furniture designer, Seungji Mun’s consideration for promoting ecology among different walks of life. With his 'Four Brothers' series—initially created in collaboration with the Swedish fashion brand COS—Mun's profile was elevated to global status as his work explored an eco-friendly design sensibility. Returning to his interest in humankind's relation to its cohabitants on planet Earth, and after further research into the respective temperaments of both humans and animals, rather than designing furniture for a human or animal subject, Mun has instead ambitiously set out to create furniture that promotes their co-existence.
With the lighthearted title, Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda, Did, furniture designer Seungji Mun’s current exhibition at Paradise ZIP in Seoul (19 July – 3 November, 2018) elaborates on his eco-friendly attitude and exploration of the notion of ‘living together.’ The exhibition’s English title conveys a slightly regretful tone, whereas the Korean title, 쓰고, 쓰고, 쓰고, 쓰다. which translates to 'Use, Use, Use, and Use' invokes the enlightened view of the designer that by recycling and reusing materials we add value to our lives.
Consisting of four sections articulating the themes, ‘Conserve,’ ‘Share,’ ‘Exchange,’ and ‘Reuse’—the exhibition stands somewhere between furniture design showcase and conceptual art exhibition, serving Mun’s aim to create public values through the exploration of his subject matter. Referencing Korea’s past economic crisis and the 1998 ANABADA movement that followed to promote the reduction of unnecessary expenditure following the country's request to the IMF for a bailout, Mun effectively reconfigures this past national campaign’s message of economy and pragmatism for the current era as a personal protest against environmental destruction.
With arrows laid throughout the floors of the exhibition Mun offers the viewer a suggested pathway through his work starting on the first floor, then stepping up to the second floor, back down to the first floor, and finally descending to the basement. Presented on the second floor is Mun’s famous Four Brothers—a series of four different zero-waste plywood chairs he developed upon learning that fifty to sixty percent of wood is regularly discarded by furniture factories. This series was initially presented at his graduation exhibition and was then featured in displays at COS stores in forty-five cities around the world in 2013. The Economical Chair series displayed together with Four Brothers focuses on furniture’s genuine function and its practical use in daily life.
As he demonstrated with Cat Tunnel Sofa—a project he realized with his classmates while still in school—the primary value proposition of Mun’s furniture is the harmony it strikes with its surrounding environment. Further developing the notion of harmonious coexistence, 130° Sofa illustrates the optimal position that each family member (including pets) ought to maintain relative to one another for harmonious coexistence—a sofa and dog house both made of fabric and plywood facing each other at an angle of 130 degrees. Like other furniture designers, Mun produces sofas and chairs; however what distinguishes his designs are the way in which they account for and integrate the invisible elements of their surroundings.
Downstairs the exhibition focuses on recycling and circulation. Following the production process of his modular system, Mun illustrates how to produce aluminum stools and chairs made of recycled cans. Worth mentioning is that he reconstructs this space in the image of his studio, incorporating actual tools and materials from his artistic practice and imbuing the space with his unique concept of activism. Rather than making ideological and pedantic pronouncements, Mun’s work offers the viewer a practical connection to the object of his activism, illustrating how the repetitive execution of individual actions eventually becomes a common practice for many. The exhibition also engages with visitors by incentivizing them to recycle their drink cans as presented in the messaging of the exhibit posters and coasters. In this regard, Mun’s one-person protest becomes a public struggle for common good.
The exhibition ends in the basement with an unexpected poetic presentation. Mun presents bunches of gypsophila in pots made of abandoned wet papers. Straddling the line between something that is easily wasted and something beautiful that ought to be preserved, Mun insists that after an object has fulfilled its original role, it ought not be ‘discarded’—if not ‘recycled’. After all, the object has merely adopted a new function. Nothing is obsolete. There are just subtle shifts in the functions—or roles—of objects, and we may pass over such shifts if we’re not paying close attention.
In his book, Justice: What’s the right thing to do? (2008) Michael Sandel states that “the moral worth of an action consists not in the consequences that flow from it, but in the intention from which the act is done.” He adds, “what matters is the motive, and the motive must be of a certain kind. What matters is doing the right thing because it’s right, not for some ulterior motive.” Maybe ‘justice’ is too grand a notion to apply to Mun’s narrative, but Sandel’s concept of ‘what matters’ would seem to be closely related to Mun's ecological sensibility. Mun's exhibition may be clearly interpreted within the context of the current “Go Green” movement, although it doesn’t play to the viewer's emotions—or employ propaganda. Rather, as a furniture designer Mun focuses instead on how he can engender public values through thoughtful design.
Featured toward the end of the exhibition is a chair that has been deemed defective due to a mistake in its production. And while this statement might lead one to think that Mun has ventured into the realm of morality, it's worth considering Sandel’s statement that “the moral worth of an action consists not in the consequences that flow from it.” Perhaps in exposing to the viewer the production process of this chair, Mun is alluding back to the recycling process he has explored throughout his oeuvre. After all, in nature there are no mistakes—just a continuous cycle of use, use, use, and reuse.