Haeok Shin+Donghyeok Shin

05.09 2016 INTERVIEW DATE

ShinShin, Graphic designers

Mok-dong, Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do

Wife and husband, Haeok Shin and Donghyeok Shin are graphic designers. The two worked separately as freelance designers but recently united, naming themselves after their identical surnames, ‘ShinShin.’ Carving out a path of their own with independent and experimental performance within the Korean graphic design scene, ShinShin are like idols to today’s design majors in college. But unlike their active engagements outside, their personal lives are quite secluded. Living in Gwangju city of Gyeonggi-do, the two limit their sociabilities to only a handful of close friends or acquaintances. And to our own imagination, the couple wore black from head-to-toe with inattentiveness written on their faces at all times, but as the door opened, we were greeted by a less-expected, cordial welcoming. With warm hospitality, the kind and cautious couple led us into their lively story.

Yoojin Jung

As a married couple and a graphic designer duo, can you describe your practice?

(H+D) We are graphic designers and we work mainly on culture and art related criterias. In the field of our practice, there are either groups that work by a strict focusing in solving problems or those that put initiative efforts to transpose commissioned projects into a mutual project, and we think we’re more like the latter. We engage ourselves in a variety of collaborative projects that integrate with a number of culture•art institutions or contemporary artists.

I was told this house carries a special story related to you, Haeok.

(H) About 20 years ago, my dad came to this neighborhood by chance and immediately fell in love with the tranquility and then commissioned an architect to build our house here. We weren’t living that far away from this place so my dad would come everyday to see for himself every step of the house building up, from selecting the site to piling up the bricks and everything. We lived here throughout my middle and high school years but later my dad’s health began to wear away so we moved to a place closer to the doctors. I had long forgotten about it but one day my parents asked if we’d be interested in living in this house once the tenants moved out. So we collected our savings in replacement for our rent deposit and moved in as soon as we got married.

 

I can imagine how strange it must’ve felt to be back to your old house after marriage.

(H) After the last tenants were gone, we were left with a house that was in a terrible state of neglect and I was really upset. I would send Donghyeok pictures of the house, with doubts on whether we could actually be able to live here or not. So we headed to Euljiro to find ourselves everything we needed in order to restore the house. We hadn’t actually dreamt of living a rustic life or anything and we don’t do much around this neighborhood. When we look around, it seems that the majority of the people who come to live in the outskirts are those that spend most of their time inside but for us we didn’t take any other places into consideration since the suggestion of my parents. We think we’re lucky in a lot of ways to be living here.

 

The structure has a touch of a typical country house.

(H) What I know is that the architect was originally a woodworker and that this was his first major construction. And because of that, I was told that he spared no use of materials in order to build a strong house and probably to prevent any likely collapse. That’s why it looks a bit bold and less sophisticated, sort of like a cabin up in the mountains. And there’s a large number of windows which answered to my mom’s request of a bright interior.

 

Did the distance to Seoul ever concern you?

(D) As for myself, a person who grew up in a more busy city, it was a bit of a burden to live in such a place in the beginning. Apart from the inconvenience that came from the absence of public transportations, it was a matter of whether or not we’d be able to manage this big house that we have for the two of us only. But a couple of years have passed and I’ve gotten used to everything now.

This is both your home and studio. What is it like for a married couple to work and dwell in the same space?

(D) We don’t really feel stressed or pressured about the fact that we’re together all day. We stay in the same house but we don’t necessarily stay face to face all the time.

(H) We’ve known each other for a very long time since college, so we feel a lot more like best friends rather than a married couple. We respect each other’s privacy so we sort of avoid each other and get back together at night, when it’s close to bedtime.(laugh)

 

Can you describe your days here?

(D) Usually we wake up around 11am and get ourselves ready and attend meetings in Seoul in the afternoon. It’s usually around 6~7pm or sometimes 9~10pm when we get back and start working. Luckily, both of us are night owls so we pretty much live on a same pattern.

(H) We tend to listen to the radio while we work and when the programs end and the next one airs, it’s then when we notice how much time had passed. Our favorite is <Lee Juyeon’s Original Sound Tracks> at 2am and we usually go to bed when that’s over.

You designed the catalogue for artist Yunseong Lee’s solo <NU> held at Doosan Gallery and I believe this is one of his artworks, right?

(D) Yes, it’s a painting of a girl bleeding through her amputated limbs with an exhilarating smile on her face. We like it because of its untaintedness. We were so drawn to this pretty painting the moment we saw it, and probably both of our childhood fondness of Japanese and American underground cult movies and anime caused us to eye the artwork.

 

It’s impressive to see the house furnished with bold colors.

(D) A large portion of this house is made up of wood so I thought applying darker colors would rather weigh down the house. I guess due to our jobs as graphic designers, we’re not so conventional when it comes to choosing colors. I mean, there’s no reason to resist ourselves in using the colors we want to use. It’s our own place anyway.

You both seem to be attached to interiors.

(H+D) Haeok shows a lot of interest in interiors. We don’t go to the trouble of going about to explore them but every time we visit a certain town or area for meetings or so, we tend to look for places with a nice interior. Self-mockingly speaking, I think we’re literally consumers. We can’t deny ourselves standing aloof from our consuming habits and actually, we’d always choose to buy high-quality products and intend to use them for a lifetime. And I think our identical values on our consumptions draws positive effect on our work. When we were young, both our parents let us make our own choices when we were to buy something but never were the type that bought us things so very often. So that eventually influenced us to make rather expensive purchases and instead use them for a long period of time. And we try to adopt the design sense that we find in our purchases and apply those senses to our work, considering them as a nice source of inspiration. Aside from the contemporary ones, we also like the most classical and textbook masterpieces. And we somehow managed our friends or family members to buy us a lot of our furnitures as a marriage gift.(laugh) Thanks to our group of designer friends, we regularly exchange a lot of nice designed objects and products.

There’s quite a number of furnitures by Kiljong Park of Kiljong Arcade. So is it true that you share a unique way of exchanging each other's works?

(H+D) It’s been a couple of years since we started a primitive trade of our labors. When we design graphics for Kiljong Arcade, Kiljong makes us furniture. And we only charge each other production fees in exchange of our works. But this doesn’t apply to anyone else. It’s been working with Kiljong all because of our entire confidence towards his practice. He made us our desks, the mirror in our bedroom, the shelf in our kitchen, the side table and our mailbox. It’s a list that starts from his early works to his most recent ones so we jokingly call our collection ‘the chronicle of Kiljong Park.’ All of them depict his own personal interests and it’s impressive to see him accumulating a wide choice of materials, from formica to steel, glass and so on.

Where are your hometowns?

(H) Before entering elementary school I lived in Seoul for a bit and then spent the rest in Seongnam and Gwangju in Gyeonggi-do.

(D) I was born and raised in the old part of Seongnam city. I went to an art institute in Bundang(a new town in Seongnam back then) during high school and kids from Bundang would separate themselves as if they were living in a different city. It was at first really odd but I soon found out that they were two different worlds. Most Bundang friends were raised in middle-class families, at the least, lived in high-rise apartment buildings, while it was the other way around in the old Seongnam, where I was from. There was a tunnel that connected the old and the new(Bundang) and the each end of that tunnel laid out a total picturesque difference. And I think this tunnel and the regionality of mine have eventually helped me to perceive myself in a more detached way.

While both of you attended Dankook University, the campus moved from Hannam(Seoul) to Jukjeon in Gyeonggi-do. What affect did it bring?

(D) I had a strong desire to attend college located in Seoul no matter what, so with the grades that I had acquired, I was able to enroll in the visual design department of Dankook University in Hannam-dong. But as I was released from the army, the campus had moved to Jukjeon. The students of course stood firmly against the idea but nevertheless the school enforced the move, just like that. Back then I learned a lesson that a single person alone wasn’t capable of marking a significance in circumstances like these. And I also realized that I was destined to live with my ties to Gyeonggi-do, no matter how hard I try to get away.(laugh)

It looks like you both spent your 20’s filled with desire and demand for inspirations and excitements.

(D) You are right and I think it’s because we’re from the satellite cities. I think people of Seoul are less aware of what the city has to offer, and this is probably because they’re already living the privileges. In the same context, we don’t know much about Gwangju either. I craved to experience the rich cultural resources of Seoul and for that reason I purposely chose to attend college in Seoul in particular, but when we were forced to move to its new campus in Jukjeon, it felt as if I was doomed with disaster.

(H) When the campus was still in Hannam-dong, we’d go to see exhibitions and performances or concerts whenever we had the chance but after we got located in Jukjeon, cultural activity was absolutely impossible. So we became desperate to pave our way beyond the campus. We opened up a typography club, rushed to hear lectures outside the school or to see shows on view at galleries.

 

I strongly agree to the point that citizens of Seoul lack awareness of the privileges the city has to offer.

(H+D) We think the majority that consumes Seoul the most are not the citizens of Seoul but the citizens of Gyeonggi-do. If you head near Gangnam station on a Friday night, it gives you a clear picture of how the gathered capital of Gyeonggi-do explicitly gets absorbed by Seoul. And we think the new subway line(Sinbundang Line) contributed to the density of that scene. The old downtown of Seongnam is now pretty much deserted. Everyone heads to Seoul for their enjoyments. If we had more accessible public transportation we might’ve as well enjoyed the city a whole lot earlier. Well, after all, Seoul is a special city.

Is there a particular place in Seoul you are fond of?

(H+D) We like the old part of Seoul, like Jongno, Chungmuro and the Gwanghwamun area in particular. Around 2006, when design studio Work Room opened in Changseong-dong, we paid a visit to the town and we loved everything about it. We faintly believe that Gangnam is a burdened place when it comes to cultural matters. It is a region centered with absolute capital but sadly lacks cultural assets — there’s a big absence of decent art museums or, for instance, independent bookstores. On the other hand, the more you dig into Gangbuk(north of Han River), the more you’ll find incredible stuff. Its thick layer of cultural sediment built throughout time is just formidable.

RECOMMENDED PLACE

The Book Society

2F, 22 Jahamunno 10-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
3 Gyeongbokgung
070-8621-5676
13:00-20:00(Mon-Fri), 13:00-19:00(Sat-Sun)

“With much assertion, it is undoubtedly a bookstore that exerted profound influence on Korea’s visual culture.”

Established in 2010, ‘The Book Society’ is an independent bookstore that also platforms a variety of projects. Many call it short as ‘Book So Sa.’ It has a long and diverse list of design, art and culture related books, run by Media Bus, a company that associates in design projects such as publishing. It showcases local designers’ experimental and independent publications along with books published by radical media studios abroad. Highly praised as ‘the foremost and only authentic bookstore’ among designers in Korea, its existence exerted a profound influence on the nation’s visual culture. It hosts occasional affairs such as Reading Room, in which friendly discussions over a reading is held, workshops and also artist and designer talks. You may find notifications on what’s happening when on their website or SNS. Photo ©EH