© Kang Shin-jae

[INSIDER GUIDE] Seoul Space Drawn by Designer Kang Shin-jae
Designer Kang Shin-jae is currently enjoying the life of a craft artist after having spent over 20 years as a space designer of studio ‘VOID planning’. As someone who constantly creates new designs, where does he find inspiration and relaxation? We asked Kang about places he likes to visit in Seoul and his design and craft projects.
“I think Seoul is a blessed city as it has a river running across it and mountains that are climbable in half a day. On the other hand, Seoul is a city where trends come and go quickly.”
Kang Shin-jae, space designer and craft artist
한강과 남산이 보이는 서울 풍경 © Shutterstock

View of the Han River and Namsan © Shutterstock

Favorite cafe?
I often go to ‘Sansuhwa Tea House’ in Hannam-dong. It is close to where I live and is where I can spend some quiet time by myself. It also has a small private room perfect for a meeting. Having a conversation with the owner about tea is another reason I like the place. I recently visited ‘Delphic’ which is a new trendy cafe in Gye-dong. It has an impressive space with a minimalistic exterior and modest, warm-toned interior design. The first floor is used as an exhibition hall and the second floor is a tea house. The space has a clean ambience with a bracket-shaped tea ceremony bar and wooden tables where tea sets are displayed.
· Sansuhwa Tea House 21-14, Hannam-daero 20-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
· Delphic 84-3, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Favorite trail?
It is fortunate that there are climbable mountains in Seoul. I usually take a walk on the North Ring Road on Mount Namsan, also known as ‘Namsan Dule-gil’. Unlike the South Ring Road where city buses and tourist buses run, the North Ring Road offers a pleasant trail without traffic. There are resting areas on the trail where you can get a vista of northern Seoul. It is a treasured place for me where I can fully enjoy changes in four seasons.
· Namsan Dule-gil Yongsan-dong 2-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
국제갤러리 © 국제갤러리

Kukje Gallery © Kukje Gallery

Favorite art gallery?
For sure, it is ‘Kukje Gallery’. It brings me great joy to see exhibitions by artists like Anish Kapoor, Bill Viola, Candida Höfer, Jean-Michel Othoniel, Jenny Holzer, Joris Laaman, and Pierre Jeanneret. Kukje Gallery’s K3 building designed by New York-based architecture firm SO-IL is an inspiration in itself. I like to go to good exhibitions regardless of the location, but personally, the ones held at Kukje Gallery and 'PKM Gallery' are must-sees.
· Kukje Gallery 54 Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
· PKM Gallery 40 Samcheong-ro 7-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Favorite shop?
It is ‘D&Department Seoul’ in Itaewon. It is close to my house and there are ‘Anthracite Coffee’ and ‘Post Poetics’ which is a bookstore specializing in art publication. Above all, I tend to agree with D&Department’s criteria in selecting merchandise. I often visit ‘Mo-No-Ha Hannam’ and ‘10 Corso Como Seoul’ in Cheongdam-dong, as well.
· D&Department Seoul 240 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
· Mo-No-Ha Hannam 36 Dokseodang-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
· 10 Corso Como Seoul 79 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
서소문성지 역사박물관 © 강신재

서소문성지 역사박물관 © 강신재

Seosomun Shrine History Museum © Kang Shin-jae

A must-see in Seoul?
Excluding exhibitions and performances that could be time-sensitive, I personally recommend ‘Seosomun Shrine History Museum’ which is architecturally very well-built. It used to be the intersection outside Seosomun Gate where numerous Catholic martyrs lost their lives during many rounds of persecution including Sinyu, Kihae, and Byeongin, to name a few, under the Joseon dynasty. Even for those uninterested in the painful history, it is an inspirational architectural work where various permanent and special exhibitions take place.
· Seosomun Shrine History Museum 5 Chilpae-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul
운심석면 © 강신재

운심석면 © 강신재

Woonsimseokmyeon © Kang Shin-jae

A hidden gem of a place?
There is an art collector’s house named ‘Woonsimseokmyeon’ (Cloud, mind, stone, face) on the Pyeongchang-dong hillside. It is truly a hidden gem in Seoul. It is usually closed to the public but opens during a special exhibition. I had a chance to visit this private museum to see the solo exhibition by ceramic artist Bae Joo-hyun. It has a beautiful backyard which is like a piece of landscape painting. It’s such an unexpected scene considering you are in the middle of Seoul. The name of the place written in Chinese characters on a signboard was written by calligrapher Yu Kang-hee who used his left hand to write instead of his paralyzed right arm.
· Woonsimseokmyeon
Inspirational places?
Everything is a source of inspiration to me. What you see and hear every moment you breathe. Nature and people, objects, feelings, light, temperature, and the wind all inspire me. A moment’s energy always differs even in the same hour and place. I make an effort to have good memories of those moments of varying energy.
덕수궁 석조전과 국립현대미술관 덕수궁관 © Shtterstock

Seogjojeon at Deoksugung and National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Deoksugung © Shtterstock

Scenes that define Seoul?
‘Jeongdong-gil’ retains the elegant, quaint scenes from the 19th century as the birthplace of Korea’s modern era which was signaled by the opening of educational institutions such as Paichai Hakdang and Ewha Hakdang. The Seoul Museum of Art, Jeongdong Theater, Ewha Girls’ High School, and Chungdong First Methodist Church are all located along the street which stretches about 1km, adding to the cultural and historical significance of the area. I also recommend that you stop by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Deoksugung, located around the corner of Deoksugung Stone-wall Road.
· Jeongdong-gil 30-1, Jeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul
About Insider: Space designer and maker, Kang Shin-jae
Kang Shin-jae is a space designer leading design firm ‘VOID planning’. His well-known works are select shop ‘T,ODO’ featured in Dutch design magazine < FRAME > and ‘Changdong Seolleongtang’ project which won the grand prize in the Best Hotels/Restaurants category at the 2006 ‘Contractworld Award’ in Germany. Starting with a space design for hand-crafted furniture brand ‘Jeonju Onn’ participating in the Craft Trends Fair in 2012, Kang has been focused on space design for craft exhibitions. Last year, he was recruited as the director in charge of the Theme pavilion at Craft Trends Fair, the nation’s largest craft festival. During this period, he found himself fascinated by craftworks. Since 4 years ago, he has been establishing himself as a craft artist by working on collaborative projects with traditional craft artisans. After living as a space designer for over 20 years, Kang is facing a big change in life. We discuss his life, space, and the art of craft in the pandemic era.
Q. How do you spend your day?
A. I got a small work space in Paju Book City when I started the new challenge of becoming a craft artist. I spend most of my time there these days. Other than that, I go see exhibitions. If I find a good inspiration, I try to reinterpret it and start making something new.

Q. How has Covid19 affected your lifestyle?
A. Not too much change. I’ve worked in space design for 25 years but I was not particularly active. The last few years have been focused on craft. I’ve participated in several craft exhibitions, but mostly worked in my studio. The time spent away from the world actually became a turning point in my life through which I was able to look back on myself. I spent a long time thinking very hard about what I was doing—making a career change at a later stage in life and becoming an artist who has to constantly battle with oneself.
강신재 소장의 작품들 © 강신재

강신재 소장의 작품들 © 강신재

강신재 소장의 작품들 © 강신재

강신재 소장의 작품들 © 강신재

Kang Shin-jae’s craftworks © Kang Shin-jae

Q. As a space designer, what do you think home means in a pandemic era, and do you have any space design tips?
A. Home is where you fill what’s lacking to you. A lack of rest, affection, entertainment, and nutrition. The development of modern industries has brought about the emergence of home-like places in the city. It meant that people could go to places offering comfort and special treatment, such as hotels, restaurants, cafes, and movie theaters, to fill their needs instead of their homes, and that was considered reasonable. Then, everything changed instantly. It’s considered unsafe outside your home. But the home is no longer a place prepared to fill what’s lacking to you. In this era where personal trends are global trends, the only place capable of giving you what you need, be it desire or rest, is your home. Home should now be a multiplex platform. Think about what you like, rather than following trends. Don’t hesitate to make small efforts to apply your ideas to your home.

Q. This past year gave us a chance to get to know our own city better because of the travel restrictions. What is Seoul like to you?
A. We have the Hangang River, Mount Namsan in the center, Naksan to the east, Inwangsan to the west, and Bukhansan to the north. I think Seoul is a blessed city as it has a river running across it and mountains that are climbable in half a day. On the other hand, Seoul is in a nutshell fast. Fast trends in social media mean that sometimes stores on a deserted alley can get a second chance at revival. They could also be erased from the memory of people at the same pace. I don’t think there’s any other city where trends come and go so quickly. You can say it’s going through a period of cultural transition. I think now is an important time. The creative sensibility of young people and the balanced sensibility of the older generation should blend well and help make a cultural archive of our era in a systematic way.    
아부다비의 티 하우스 ‘아트티’ © 강신재

‘Artteas,’ a tea house in Abu Dhabi © Kang Shin-jae

2015년 파리 그랑팔레에서 진행한 ‘공예예술비엔날레 레벨라시옹’ 한국관 © 강신재

‘The Revelations: International Biennale of Fine Craft and Creation Fair’ place at the Grand Palais museum in Paris in 2015 © Kang Shin-jae

패션 브랜드 ‘로메오 산타마라아’의 숍 © 강신재

The shop for the fashion brand ‘Romeo Santamaria’ © Kang Shin-jae

The iconic design of select shop ‘T,ODO’ put VOID planning on the world map. Kang was featured in Dutch design magazine < FRAME > for the first time as a Korean space designer. He was nominated for and invited to ‘The Great Indoors Award’ hosted by < FRAME >. 
The Korean pavilion space design at ‘The Revelations: International Biennale of Fine Craft and Creation Fair’ which took place at the Grand Palais museum in Paris in 2015. In celebration of the 130th anniversary of the Korea-France diplomatic relationship, Korea was invited as the country of honor at the exhibition. Kang also chose his work on the shop of Italian fashion brand ‘Romeo Santamaria’ on Via Della Spiga in Milan and the one on ‘Artteas’ tea house in Abu Dhabi as unforgettable space design projects.
2020 Craft Trends Fair © Kang Shin-jae

2020 Craft Trends Fair © Kang Shin-jae

Q. Until recently, you were involved in the design of exhibition space for craft shows. What got you into craft exhibition in particular?
A. I think I might have an inherent craftsman gene. When I was working on ‘Changdong Seolleongtang’, I worked with tiny wooden beads dyed in five colors that had to cover the 3m-tall convex columns with a 60cm diameter. It took about a month to finish all four. When I was working on ‘Jeonju Onn,’ I used meok(ink) to create a gradation effect on Korean traditional paper hanji which was meant to depict a foggy lakeside in the early morning. I covered the walls of the exhibition booth, totaling 100㎡, with the painted hanjis. The end result was more dreamy than I had expected. These types of projects involving craftworks and the favorable reviews they got led me to continue designing for craft exhibitions.
편집숍 ‘티오드’ © 강신재

Select shop ‘T,ODO’ © Kang Shin-jae

창동 설렁탕 © 강신재

Changdong Seolleongtang © Kang Shin-jae

2012 공예 트렌드 페어의 ‘전주 온’ 전시 공간 © 강신재

‘Jeonju Onn’ during the 2012 Craft Trends Fair © Kang Shin-jae

Q. Where do you find ideas for exhibition space design?
A. The keywords for my design are light, nature, and time. For the latest work on the Theme pavilion, I created a gigantic light source, like the sun, on the ceiling. It’s why many of my craft projects involve light. I try to find subject materials and develop the work process within ‘the time of nature’. I hope my effort will pay off in the form of artworks.

Q. It can be assumed that your experience with craft exhibitions affected your decision to become a craft artist?
A. Definitely. I could naturally foster my interest in craft. To tell the truth, most of the craftworks we see around us are the ones on display. But their true value can be found when they are put to use in real life. The artist’s energy finally speaks to us and we get to communicate with the artifact. As I came in contact with various handicrafts, I realized I wanted to be part of that communication. Imagine it. Your house is filled with your handmade items, and they age beautifully as you use them. Doesn’t the idea make you happy?
강신재 소장이 만든 공예품이 놓여 있는 작업실 풍경 © 강신재

강신재 소장이 만든 공예품이 놓여 있는 작업실 풍경 © 강신재

강신재 소장이 만든 공예품이 놓여 있는 작업실 풍경 © 강신재

View of the studio with craftworks by Kang Shin-jae © Kang Shin-jae

Q. What would be the appeal of handcrafting that space design does not have?
A. Technological advancement has replaced many things, but details created out of human sensibility, insight, and sensitivity cannot be replaced. Making things with your hands and seeing the ‘texture’ created as a result of communion between natural materials and human senses give you more than just a visual pleasure. I think that’s the beauty of Korean traditional craft. If you find happiness in an object, you are getting healed. Craft has a healing power.

Q. What is your goal for this year?
A. The biggest plan for 2021 is having a solo exhibition with my craftworks. I have to submit more than 20 pieces, so it won’t be easy. I’ll do my best to impress you with a good show in the latter half of this year. If I may add one more, I would like to get a chance at craft exhibition curation once again.
March 2021 Editor:Kim Hyewon

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