Sanghyeok Lee is a designer/artist, manifests behavioral attitudes on inanimate things in a space by touching the borders of intangible body and rational implementation. He reestablishes the relationship between objects and space with a methodological metaphor of spaces, buildings and cities by harmonizing forms, finding material values, and refining production techniques and functionality. His projects evoke in-and-out mixed atmosphere to find both calm and dynamic gesture to another level of spatial experience.
iGNANT \ Studio visits & interview
Useful Chair Project Video \ Interviewed by Chamber NYC
11 Design Academy Eindhoven, The Netherlands
09 Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), USA
12 Studio, Berlin, Germany
10 Piet Hein Eek, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
18 Domestic Architecture, Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin, Germany
14 Useful Exhibition, DMY Gallery, Berlin, Germany
19 Reflection Studies, One and J +1, Seoul, South Korea
18 Design is subject to change, Grassimesse, Leipzig, Germany
17 Petit h by Hermés Launching Installation, Seoul, South Korea
17 The Other Face of the Moon, Asia Culture Center, Gwangju, South Korea
16 Sempering, XXI Triennale di Milano, Italy
15 Séul, vite, vite, Tri Postal, Lille, France
13 New Wave, Kumho Museum, Seoul, South Korea
16 Spring Exhibition, Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, Denmark
14 Be Open Award, Milan, Italy
13 Time to Design, Copenhagen, Denmark
13 Danish Art Workshops, Copenhagen, Denmark
13 TALENTS, Ambiente, Frankfurt, Germany
12 MEMORABILIA, Design Liège, Liège, Belgium
12 D3 Contest, Cologne, Germany
18 Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin, Germany
16 Kookmin University, Seoul, South Korea
15 Hongik University, Sejong, South Korea
14 Stockholm Furniture Fair, Stockholm, Sweden
13 Danish Art Workshops, Copenhagen, Denmark
12 Sangmyeong University, Seoul, South Korea
While Sanghyeok Lee, a designer who studied at Design Academy Eindhoven, was in school, he presented MECHAIR (2009) and LISTEN TO YOUR HANDS (2011). Both works seem to be faithful to the modernism design grammar of “harmonious combination of function and form.” Yet, something is still strange because he defines a variable, ’function’ in a different way compared to common furniture design.
Let’s start with MECHAIR which Sanghyeok Lee has made during his exchange study at Rhode Island School of Design. The variable of the function in this chair design is defined by a body of the designer. The common design process of furniture is based on a standardized human scale of human engineering. Lee seems to question on this, saying they may command us to “sit proper” forcefully. So he, ignoring human scale, applies his own posture that he feels comfortable to the design grammar. Throughout this process, he creates a uniquely formed chair. The seat, legs, back, and armrests are arbitrarily folded and twisted, eventually connected. It seems it lacks the comfort that we usually imagine for a chair. However, he creates a chair as a fastidious objet through his unique problem solving method which is the only solving method for his answer.
On the other side, LISTEN TO YOUR HANDS is a strange desk with lots of drawers on it. When you open and close one of drawers on this desk or from the side quickly, the other drawer opens. He creates a scene in which drawers push and pull each other, using air pressure. When you see this desk, you naturally start to think of old slapstick comedy film scenes. When you push a drawer, the other drawer will pop out and strike a head of a main character or an evil. The approach in this desk design is similar to MECHAIR. He still seems to strongly believe in “harmonious combination of function and form.” When it says ‘function’ here, it means the pleasure of immediate response, coming from touch screens of smart devices. In other world, Lee is trying to ‘reenact’ the response of touch screens through a material form of furniture. As a result, we get to see a structure of cuboids, architecturally displayed, borrowing a form of drawers on a desk.
Lee presents MECHAIR as “a chair only designed for me” and LISTEN TO YOUR HANDS as “a desk with drawers which talks with a user.” However, this statement sounds like a plausible alibi, when I see his final products. When he mentions ideas of “his own posture” and “touch interface”, it is more likely methodologically borrowed strategy for formative experimentation of furniture, rather than a unique definition of ‘function’ to design practical furniture design. From this perspective, his strategy to individualize a function, not to generalize, seems successful. While he still believes in his modernism faith, he produces an object which slightly looks like non-furniture when still it is furniture.
While these two works show his obsession to formative experimentation, USEFUL ARBEITSLOSER (JOBLESS) suggests a different design methodology, as it expands his interest of building a relationship between space and furniture. As we all know, commonly furniture plays a role of separating or dividing spaces in the room as it stores clothes, supports books, and sticks to our bodies, depending on its purposes. On the other hand, USEFUL ARBEITSLOSER (JOBLESS) goes on its own way. Lee completes the furniture through a process of making wooden poles stand and fixing wood boards with brass joints, which becomes a miniatured form of a scaffold.
At a glance, it seems similar to DIY furniture, but it is apparently different. The process of assembling and its result as a final product are not so much different to existing furniture. But the main agent of the assembly is replaced. Of course when the main agent becomes users of homes and offices instead of factory workers, DIY furniture can look slightly different from existing furniture. In other words, skilled labor can create aesthetic space in which one is able to experiment on the possibility of the process of assembling furniture and its completed form, even if the difference is not significant. However, DIY furniture can go only this far. A chair is still a chair, and a desk is still a desk, and a bookshelf is still a bookshelf.
Lee, different from common DIY approach, shows a unique perspective, adapting methodological metaphor of ‘a scaffold structure.’ As we all know, a scaffold structure that we often see on construction sites, is a makeshift installation for workers on sites to work and move. Bringing this makeshift installation inside the room makes odd happenings. First, the indoor space in which this installation is located, becomes to look like a part of city space, ready to have new buildings. The scaffold structure, a methodological metaphor, displaces the space. And furthermore, this metaphor takes a step aside from a common convention of furniture, and restructures the displaced space. The familiar design grammar of furniture which has a obvious front and back sides that make us to lean against the wall with no hesitation, does not work here anymore. The wooden poles cross vertically as they penetrate spaces busily, and the wood boards clinging to the wooden poles stay evenly as supporting sides.
USEFUL ARBEITSLOSER (JOBLESS) indifferently reveals its weak body which all the eyes in the room can see through. This skeletal furniture with no muscle and skin transfigures the room where it sits in. It is distinct that that room is different from our commonly sensed room although the identity is still vague.
As Lee confesses, USEFUL ARBEITSLOSER (JOBLESS) reflects his unstable life as a designer living in a foreign country. However, he strategically utilizes this instability, and instead he acquires a perspective of seeing the relation of dynamics between space and furniture from more meta-level. It is because a scaffold structure is self reflective of his own life, but at the same time, it is a unique approach to furniture objects. How this present progressive approach, which can be summarized as ‘reestablishment of the relationship between furniture and space with a methodological metaphor’ will be developed from now? And what kinds of relationship that this approach will make with the other approach of ‘the formative experimentation through individualizing functions’ that MECHAIR and LISTEN TO YOUR HAND have showed? The reason why we will keep being curious about Lee’s future works is because of these questions above, and his answers.
Text \ Haecheon Park
Photographs \ Jessica Wolfelsperger