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May Barely Grown-Up Typojanchi be Blessed
Typojanchi 2021: International Typography Biennale, A Turtle and a Crane
Curatorial essay

Typojanchi was first held in 2001, and it was the only international design event under the theme of typography at the time, so it was well received at home and abroad. Typojanchi is expanding the influence of design culture by capturing contemporary times and social issues in various visual languages according to a different art director’s planning and method of presenting the event.
I was appointed as the director of Typojanchi 2021: The International Typography Biennale and named it as A Turtle and a Crane, plan and prepare for the exhibition. The following is a record of the exhibition held from September 14 to October 17, 2021 at Cultural Station Seoul 284. I organized my thoughts and processes in preparing for the exhibition.

    Left and right: Helmo, LIVING/LOVING, 2021, digital print, light panel, each 3000 × 1500 mm
    Center: Miju Lee, Buddha’s Plam, 2021, paint on wood, 6000 × 6000 × 5000 mm
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Theme of Typojanchi 2021:

    The theme of each biennale for Typojanchi is determined in a format where typography invites and collaborates with various aspects of society and culture. The previous themes of Typojanchi were ‘Typography and Literature (文字·文學)’, ‘Typography and City (文字·都市)’, ‘Typography and Body (文字·身)’, and ‘Typography and Object (文字·事物)’. It is up to the appointed director of the biennale to interpret and develop the given theme. The theme given to me by the International Typography Biennale Organizing Committee is ‘Typography and Life (文字·生命).’ My guess is that this keyword ‘Life (生命)’ was probably chosen under the influence of the current pandemic.
    However, I didn’t want to preach anything about the current crisis with seriousness, nor emphasize the dignity of life, especially at Typojanchi (Janchi 잔치 is a pure Korean word for party or festival). In addition, compared to the two words with a natural relationship that is inevitable to each other, such as ‘Typography and Literature’ or ‘Typography and City,’ the words ‘Typography and Life’ are not as close by nature. Those two words felt a little strange and were hardly seen as an encouraging relation to go forward. That’s why I thought one of them should drive the other on. I decided to put more stress on ‘Life,’ the invitee, than the host, ‘Typography,’ which was followed by exploration for relationships and possibilities in which the word life could be connected with typography, characters, and letters. 

    Studio Spass, Lifespan, 2021, digital print, colored paper, paint on wood, 3600 × 5300 × 300 mm
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Rather than thinking about how appropriate and timely the discourses brought about by this exhibition could be, I spent more time on thinking about the source, fundamentals or backgrounds of ourselves. Eventually, I came to a conclusion that ‘Typography and Life’ is, in a way, a keyword that we can access from a somewhat oriental perspective. In Korea, China, and Japan, we give names to new ‘lives’ by choosing two or three out of the countless ‘Characters (文字)’ with various ‘Desire’ for the ‘Life’ that newborns are about to live. This concept of ‘name’ which we give to new lives is a subject matter that contextualizes all life, hope, and typography. This is an important element that penetrates the identity of this exhibition.
    The name of the exhibition A Turtle and a Crane was taken from the longest human name in the world, “Kim Suhanmoo Keobugiwa (means a turtle) Durumi (means a crane) Samcheongabja Dongbangsak Chichigapo Sarisarisaenta Woriwori Saepeurikang Moodoosella Gureumi Hurricane Dambyeorak Seosaengwonae Goyangyi Badookineun Doldolri1.” I figured that this name would be able to convey Typojanchi's exhibition universe that forms its framework, in a concise and attractive way.
        Typography I had learned from school was a western study based on Latin alphabets. I was taught old style, transitional and modern style but never heard of anything like 篆書, 隸書, 楷書, 行書, 草書2. Many design exhibitions could not escape from western eyes or influence. Though what has been done around here where we are born and rooted is not called typography, I wanted those typographic activities to be carefully watched as well.
    This is a buzzword known through a comedy program by a Korean TBC broadcasting company in the mid-1970s. Parents gave the name to pray for the longevity of their children. It was created by combining the names of all the things that symbolize a long lifespan, such as turtles and cranes which are believed to live long in Korea, the oldest human recorded in the Bible, and Chinese mythical figures who are known to have lived 180,000 years.
    Chirography of Chinese characters is largely classified into five types of Zhuanshu (篆書), Lishu (隸書), Kaishu (楷書), Xingshu (行書) or Caoshu (草書). Zhuanshu, the oldest, emerged in the Warring States period (春秋戰國時代) in ancient China and was used to document ideas of all philosophers and scholars (諸子百家). Lishu is a simplified version of Zhuanshu and was once popular in the Han dynasty. It is closest to the form of Chinese characters we know, followed by Kaishu which was completed and widely used in the Tang dynasty. Xingshu and Caoshu are cursive styles that expanded the artistic domain of typography.

    Structure of the exhibition:

    In finding artists and requesting them for work to exhibit at Typojanchi, I chose a deductive method, where I would create a general framework of the exhibition first, then asking the artists to fill in the blanks. Because we wanted to focus mainly on the overall organization and theme of the exhibition, we did not want to collect existing and outstanding work (previously exhibited elsewhere) to exhibit as if they were at a department store. This is why most artists we invited created new work solely for this exhibition.
    In a way, it is not very meaningful to divide the boundary between art and design. However, when a design or architecture that has specific function or use enters an art museum, it often shows a strange attitude and atmosphere. For designers who mainly solve creative problems requested by clients, the fact that ‘an exhibition is an opportunity to show a different kind of work’ can act as a burden on them. I wanted to really highlight the direction of artwork and unique techniques that each of the participating designers has over time researched, developed, and explored on a daily basis. To do this, I worked towards devising a voice of the exhibition, to have a greater voice as a whole, rather than the individual’s roar of desires.

    In the Asian worldview, life circulates according to Five Elements (五行)3. Among everything (森羅萬象), only humans use this circulation of life as the starting point of desire, rather than complying with it. It is the typography, characters, and letters that have been used as the primary method of revealing that desire. The act of expressing and enjoying intangible concepts such as desire, beliefs, fear, and imagination through typography, characters, and letters has been continued from ancient times to the present day. Inspired by these Five Elements of Asian ideology, I created a framework for the exhibition to capture human desires that result from the cycle of life, and then express them using characters, letters, and things around them.
    In Asia, Five Elements explain changes of all things in nature through five energies of tree, fire, earth, metal and water. According to this theory, we have curiosity and desires (tree 木), we are divided for our interests and then expanded (fire 火), get harmonized yet again (earth 土), bear fruit (metal 土) and then become condensed (water 水) over and over again. This quality of circulation inspired the exhibition formation with four parts.

    Five Elements theory is an Oriental thought to explain and match genesis, change and extinction of the whole creation and the entire phenomena of human life to the five energies of tree (木), fire (火), earth (土), metal (金) and water (水). Yin-Yang theory is to describe all things and phenomena such as  life and death, movement and staticity, light and darkness, day and night via interaction of two complementary energies of Yin (陰, passive, cold, dark, humid, soft) and Yang (陽, active, heat, bright, dry, hard). As a kind of natural philosophy and worldview, the Yin-Yang Five-Elements theory that combines the two has widely and deeply affected our culture and life; the four ceremonial occasions of coming of age, wedding, funeral, and ancestral rites, location and bearing of royal palace and buildings and even food, clothing and shelter.   

    Part 1. Prayer and Desire
    Chapter 1. A Sacred Tree
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Part 1. Prayer and Desire
    Chapter 2. Home Sweet Home
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Part 1. Prayer and Desire
    Chapter 3. ♥4U
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    The first part, ‘Prayer and Desire (祈願·祈福),’ contain various interpretations of the primitive desires (mainly of the past) with the subtheme of creation and curiosity. It deals with a host of media such as two-dimension, three-dimension and screenwork through three chapters: ‘A Sacred Tree’ that expresses each artist’s wishes using multiple symbols, letters and signs from many cultures, ‘Home Sweet Home’ that interprets the custom of wishing good luck to animal-like objects and putting them in living space such as a cabinet inlaid with turtles or cranes using mother-of-pearl, wooden lovebirds, maneki-neko4 and Dala horse5 and ‘♥︎4U’ that displays certain types of internet memes which family members exchange on special seasonal divisions like onset of spring (立春) and winter solstice (冬至), anniversaries, holidays and birthdays. The first chapter ‘A Sacred Tree’ is built with a huge structure that reminds of traditional five-colored ribbons hanging from a sacred tree at a shrine to the village deity found in Korean old villages to highlight ‘tree’, the first among the Five Elements.
    The second part ‘Record and Declaration (記錄·宣言)’ displays works with close observation and deep introspection on contemporary topics under the themes of division & fruition, and passion & intuition. This part consists of three chapters: ‘Picture Speech’ about stories and voices exchanged between texts and images, ‘Metamorphosis’ that approaches environmental issues as an object of observation by collecting and recording plastic waste that became hardened like rocks on the beach and ‘Slanted Library’ that collects examples of Korean books published after 2015 that have subsequently affected book design since then through extraordinary attempts which would have been challenging at the time of publication.

    招き猫. The figurine depicts a cat with a paw raised in a beckoning gesture. It is well-known for bringing good luck (more specifically, wealth and health) to the owner. People usually display this in their shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, pachinko parlors, and other businesses, generally near the entrance. Some of them have a mechanical paw that slowly moves back and forth.

    A horse-like wooden doll originating in Dalarna, Sweden, called Dalahäst in Swedish. Commonly seen at Nordic-style interior prop stores. The Swedish believe that Dala horse brings home peace and good luck. It features a rudely shaped wooden body, vivid background color (mostly in red) and various patterns painted on.

    Part 2. Record and Declaration
    Chapter 1. Picture Speech
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Part 2. Record and Declaration
    Chapter 2. Metamorphosis
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation 

    Part 2. Record and Declaration
    Chapter 3. Slanted Library
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    The third part ‘Revelation and Imagination (啓示·想像)’ presents works of various media and genres that look at media symbols and futuristic imaginations under the theme of condensation, resourcefulness and wit all together. ‘Garden of Memes’ deals with a variety of contemporary art works created on the basis of new inspiration and imagination given to us in the post-internet era and ‘Land of Symbols’ introduces the records and clues of life symbolically expressed by craftspeople through their unique craft techniques. ‘Land of Symbols’, the very last part of the exhibition, thematizes plants (陰·木), which semantically rhymes with the big tree (陽·木) on ‘A Sacred Tree’ in the first part.
    The last but not least ‘Presence and Persistence (存在·持續)’ consists of leading works of Typojanchi 2021, expressing the theme ‘Typography and Life’ in the most profound way. We invited eleven teams at home and abroad as major artists who have shown positive and creative homeostasis through harmony and balance. We had relatively enough conversations and coordination processes done with those artists regarding their works one by one. Installations by invited artists from a number of cities including Helmo (Montreuil), Lee Miju (Busan), Studio Spass (Rotterdam), Kook Dongwan (Seoul), Hwang Naky (London) and TUKATA® (Incheon) were placed all over Culture Station Seoul 284, the exhibition venue, as well as the main hall and functioned as a link for all those parts of the event.

    Part 3. Revelation and Imagination
    Chapter 1. Garden of Memes
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Part 3. Revelation and Imagination
    Chapter 2. Land of Symbols
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation 

    Artists and works:

    I was often told this year’s Typojanchi was easier to appreciate than previous ones. I also wanted to ask why they found it easy. Viewers generally discover stuff seen and understood at an exhibition. It is natural, particularly in the case of Typojanchi, that they look for something ‘to be read’. When there are many things readable and reading matters are abundant, the exhibition seems to receive favorable responses. The act of reading herein includes comprehension of contexts in which different forms and structures are laid on top of understanding letters or articles along with their meanings. Inoue Hisashi (井上ひさし), a Japanese playwright and novelist, once said “Difficult in an easy way, easy in a profound way and profound in a hilarious way”. One of my favorite quotes.
    The title of the exhibition ‘Typojanchi’ feels a little odd. It is a combination of a word which means ‘(somewhat professional) technology to deal with letters’ and another word which associates ‘a scene where anyone can go on a binge with low barriers to entry’. These contradictory two words feel like a puzzling mix. There are many words with the suffix of ‘graphy’ such as calligraphy, biography, choreography as well as the most frequently used term photography. Heard of the term ‘photography’, however, we think of more than specific methods and techniques like how to adjust shutter speed or aperture. Our thoughts rather reach out to many other things in culture, social conditions and even industry overall including fashion, goods, food, model, hair, makeup, marketing, billboard ads, etc. As to the term ‘typo’graphy in particular, it feels like people are expecting something academic and practical even though where the term is actually put is called ‘janchi (feast)’. Letters and characters exist as there is a language and language should be preceded by civilization. Handling the present typography may refer to fiddling with the current culture.

    Pen Union, Post in an Distance, 2021
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Left: Dongwan Kook, Outbreak 900 ×, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 900 × 1800 mm
    Right: Dongwan Kook, Stay at Home Please 900 ×, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 2700 × 2700 mm
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Jaewon Kang, Swoosh, 2021, inflatable, 5000 × 7960 × 1850 mm
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Sunju Oh, 00, 2021, mixed clay, each unit diameter 45 mm
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Typojanchi this time excluded methodological and technical domains such as variable types and current trends in graphic design. Instead, we tried to cover how the current typography is being expanded and what it encompasses along with its evolution (or degradation). Online messengers like KakaoTalk and Line made for exchanging text information incorporate a considerable portion of non-text components. What else can it be called but today’s typographic materials: emojis to deliver various feelings and intentions, hashtags facilitating quick sorting and access to certain information, various memes that serve as a kind of compact about multilayered emotions and meanings which are hard to define in one word and QR codes as essentials in the current pandemic circumstances. Those materials were exhibited all over the exhibition from a giant work in the main hall to captions for each work in a declaratory manner.
    Typojanchi truly matters in that there is hardly any exhibition recognized in this scale that graphic designers or type designers autonomously participate (through many different roles like director or curator). For this reason, however, it has also been naturally regarded as a ritual chance to invite and introduce new designers with some career (at their turn taken somewhat for granted). On the other hand, there is a tacit agreement that chances to participate should be given to as many artists as possible but it is still inevitable that some artists (with outstanding performance who would wisely read the theme and consequently be very likely to grace the event) keep on joining the exhibition. It is because Typojanchi is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the director. As to the scope of participating artists vertically narrowed down in similar fields, I tried horizontal expansion. I invited contemporary artists, photographers, craftspeople, and writers.

    Gender at Typojanchi 2021: International Typography Biennale, A Turtle and a Crane

    Typojanchi involved 57, 90, 218, and 127 teams respectively in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019. Typojanchi 2021 invited 53 teams, which was the result of our effort to reduce the number of participating artists (at least to the level of 2013). In return for giving up a kind of magnificence from previous Typojanchi, we had to fill up the emptied space with something else.
    Delicately coordinating relatively few pieces of works and giving them context, we aimed for diversity by actively accepting genres other than quasi-poster 2D works, type design or lettering. It also is the will to increase the lower price limit for commissioned works. It is a shame that the number of overseas artists was minimal and we didn’t hold the opening ceremony due to the pandemic.

    Club Sans, JIM, 2021, carpets, bricks, stove pipe, copper pipe, wire mesh roll, lumbers, flowers(chrysanthemum), flexible aluminium duct, baskets, reflector antenna, beach umbrella, advertisement balloon, ALC blocks, variable size
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Filed, Missing Images, 2021, printed vinyl, wood, acrylic, metal, 2200 × 7000 × 1200 mm
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    NAVER × NAVER Culture Foundation × AG Typography Institute, Maru Buri, a Record of 4 Years, 2021, digital print, projection, 1400 × 8055 × 880mm
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation


    There were some aspects that I wanted to inherit from the previous Typojanchi exhibitions, and some new attempts I wanted to try in this edition, simultaneously. Though working hard on diversity as an international exhibition including nationality, racial background or gender ratio of participating artists, I still feel there are many things lacking. As the East has Five Elements, there are four in the West, which are earth (terra), water (aqua), air (ventus) and fire (ignis). Three of them are identical with the three in the eastern Five Elements of tree (木), fire (火), earth (土), metal (金) and water (水) and the only one differs. The way people live looks generally similar with some variations though. There was room to keep contexts and forms similar to those of Typojanchi held so far but I wanted to show something different in about 25 percent of the exhibition.

    There were about two happy moments that resonated with me. When reviewing the exhibition with reporters and editors after the press conference, I was pleased to see a number of nuns being guided by the exhibition tour, with great interest. Another time was when I saw a mother and child standing in front of Buddha’s Palm, having a long and imaginative conversation.
    Helmo’s work Living/Loving is installed in the central hall of Culture Station Seoul 284, which is the main space you happen to be in, as soon as you enter the exhibition hall. Perhaps Another definition of love would be to accept and embrace that every being living in the stream of circulation is not different. I hoped that the exhibition would be a favorable gesture to all the viewers from parents, children, graphic designers, type designers, artists, poets, teachers, students, nuns, monks, accidental visitors and all. I don't know if my intention was actualized, but one can only hope.

    Janchi (feast) always has guests. The guests here are words invited by typography like literature, city, life, music, and politics that have interacted with the typography. Hopefully there is more interaction made between future Typojanchi and guests from genres other than design or typography.

    Held in 2001 for the first time, Typojanchi is now twenty years old. After the exploration into the birth and the name of barely grown-up Typojanchi, I’d like to see what it would be like through harmonizing with various guests, stepping back a bit.

    TUKATA®, The World’s Longest Name, 2021, cotton fabric, mixed materials, variable size
    Photo: Sooin Jang, courtesy of Korea Craft and Design Foundation

    Typojanchi 2021:
    International Typography Biennale
    A Turtle and a Crane

    Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism

    Korea Craft & Design Foundation / International Typography Biennale Organizing Committee

    Cooperation Institution:
    National Hangeul Museum / Korean Society of Typography

    Organizing Committee:
    Jeongmi Yu / Jeongeun Lee / Taehoon Kim / Dongseop Shim / Kyungsun Kymn / Byunghak Ahn / Dallae Jin & Woohyuk Park

    Operating Committee:
    Jaemin Lee / Sangho Kim / Seungbae Kim / Inah Shin / Minkyung Yoo / Minhyung Lee / Myunghwan Choi / Sulki Choi

    Administration Office:
    Seungbae Kim / Jiwon Kim / Sujin Lee
    NAVER / NAVER Cultural Foundation / Doosung Paper / Baedal Minjok / Ahn Graphics / TWL – Shop & Studio / motemote / The Japan Foundation, Seoul

    AG Typography Institute / CongKong / LeoDot / CAVA Life / Print Fidelity

    Media sponsors:
    Monthly Design / Design Press / IDEA Magazine / Design360° Magazine

    Jaemin Lee

    Chief curators:
    Eerang Park / Hyojoon Jo

    Eunjin Regina Shin (seenzau) / Green Kim / Jaeyoung Lee / Jangsub Lee / Jeongwook Cha

    Project manager:
    Hyejin Jin

    Yelin Yi
    Exhibition identity:
    Typojanchi 2021 Team / Miki Kim

    Marcsosa (Byungguk Kim, Kyungmoon Min, Eunkyoung Park)

    Catalog editing: Workroom (Hwalsung Park, Guhong Min

    Catalog design:
    Workroom (Hyunsun You)

    Website producing, editing & design:
    Workroom (Guhong Min, Hyunsun You)
    Hyunkyung Kim

    Filming & post-production:
    Peace Piece (Director Jaeyoung Park, DP Taebeom Lee, AC Seunghwan Jang)

    Sooin Jang

    Eunyoung Park

    © Jaemin Lee. All rights reserved.