Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? Who are you, where are you from, and how did your urge to design develop?
I am Jin Lee, and I am based in Amsterdam and Seoul. I am always somewhere in-between, usually in-between seriousness and fun.
I keep talking through my design to keep my reflective calmness and outgoing lightness in balance. I always work with the expectation that it would be nice if the viewer could think about my message once and then look back at themselves. It is designLAB at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie that guided me under this value and respected my directionality. The closer we get to understanding the design, the better you can seriously question your perspective.
The starting point of my design is always what I want to say and what experience we can share, not only aesthetic and practicality. I hope that my work will bridge conflicts and provide interaction between my message and existing values.
You shared your projects on Instagram with us, using the hashtag #HEYDDW. Can you tell us what the project is about and what it aims for?
My Project 'Anyone's Anything' is a playground where we can play with our ways of seeing things and doubt social taboo. It consists of 3 rides. I made these rides by scaling up sex toys following their features, shape, colours, material — skin-safe silicone. Regular movement by riding the ride replaces the vibration. When viewed from children's naive perspective, this is just a playground, but from what perspective are we looking at this playground? Should we really regulate this playground with social taboos just because they have sex toy characters?
I started this project from a linguistic misunderstanding of the word 'sex toy.' From the perspective of a non-native English speaker, these 2 words are very separate, so how can these 2 words coexist? "Sex toy" combines the seeming contradiction between the adult world and children's activities. Another starting point was my nephew's toy. The toy he was playing with reminded me of a butt plug. I thought: "maybe there is a thin line between sex toys and toys." The way of seeing defines that line. What if a sex toy can be a toy? This playground is transformed depending on your interpretations and how you see it. Through the friction of various opinions between multiple people, I hope that we can try to look at it from a different perspective for even a second. We can have doubts about what we have unconditionally believed in.
The #heyddw post on our Instagram caused quite a stir, which lots of people commenting on it. How do you feel about the discussion that followed? And how important is this discussion to you?
I was glad that I could face all the reactions! Discussions are essential in my work. Some responses showed the starting point of my work: comments that reflected seeing it only one way with their own bias, as I was trying to say. Being controversial is one purpose of my project, if that means exploring how an adult reacts to it as someone with a background with sexual things; how they instil their perception to even kids, and how they even determine children's perception. It is not easy to break existing ideas, especially for adults. I wanted my project to be a small trigger to try various perspectives. It will be a chance through argument to think about consuming something one way and interpreting it fragmentarily.
Social media is an easy outlet for opinions. Especially with sensitive or controversial subjects. How did you take this into account when starting this graduation project?
As I said earlier, debate is a process that should happen. I considered that the controversy would heat up as I put it out in public. In that respect, isn't social media the most appropriate space? I hoped the playground would be a place for discussion that gives everyone room for interpretation. And that the debate would be an opportunity for people to see it as a new perspective. My project started from my perspective, but it can be completed if I am entirely excluded and filled with various interpretations of people. That room for interpretation is also the starting point of controversy, especially when people interpret it as my project is sexualizing children. That is why I did not want to impose any restrictions on my project to try the possibility of our ‘ways of seeing'. So this has gone through a process of development following linear thinking: sex - toy - adults - children – playground, in which everyone has experienced and can have an opinion. I tried to make it intuitively without twisting.
How is the Gerrit Rietveld Academie involved in guiding you through these aspects of design?
While I was working, Rietveld did not let me look in only one direction. That means there were no restrictions. That is a powerful motive I was able to learn at Rietveld. My tutors have presented so many possibilities to develop. In the end, my project was selected for Berlagefonds, which is the school fund of Gerrit Rietveld Academie. The fund supported me to develop and implement these design aspects.
What did the project teach you?
To persist in what I am saying. So many people tried to dissuade me when I said I was doing this project and suggested other alternatives. It sometimes weakened my confidence in my work. But I insisted on the original idea and kept working on it. I was fully aware that my project could be controversial. And it is to some people; it has led to a lot of debate. But because of it, I could have conversations and interact with people with my design when getting out of my comfort zone, not avoiding criticism. For me it was a turning point of thinking about the role of design, as a designer, as one piece of the public.
How has the pandemic affected your work so far? How do you look back on the past year?
I was either working hard or being lazy! For example, when I had to make an appointment to buy materials: sometimes I worked hard following that time or put everything off and waited for the appointment time. The pandemic affected my preparation process.
I try to interview people related to a project before I start it. I tried to interview parents and kids at the playground and in front of the kindergarten for this project. During the pandemic, I was worried that people might be wary of me when I tried to go closer. At the time of display at the exhibition, I cared about hygiene more than ever. After people played, I cleaned up all the pieces with sanitizing tissue every time.
If you were able to choose anyone in the world to work with (a designer, politician, artist, scientist, or someone else), who would that be and why?
Kiha & The Faces, a Korean band. Their songs are always on my playlist when I work. I'm even listening to their songs at this moment! It's a bright melody, but the lyrics in it say something serious. In that respect, I think there is something in common with me. Their lyrics provoke any psychology within humans. My feelings, which were hard to explain in words, have been in their lyrics. Their songs make me look back at my vaguely evasive feelings. If I could make something together with those who make me feel something just by listening, I look forward to what will come out and how fun it will be.
If you could ask yourself a question for this interview, what would it be? And how would you answer?
"Are you serious?" Many people commented that. Yes, I am totally serious. I am always serious! I would like to share with you all this controversy and debate seriously. I don't deny any reaction, even if it's a rebuke to me. I always respect all opinions and want to have a conversation with you. Wouldn't we be able to find touchpoints of our different perspectives together?
Do you have any news you would like to share with the DDW community?
I have planned some exhibitions in which you can play with my project. Lekart jong talent at Werk aan het Spoel in Culemborg on 25-26th September. And my works will be installed at Mediamatic in Amsterdam as part of museum night in November. I am also looking forward to seeing how people react to my project in public space.