Seungjin Yang

A studio visit

Published in Nuda:Ego

Many balloons have spent their days floating through the sky or twisted into dogs, but it’s like balloons always were destined to be chairs, and Seungjin Yang was the only one who knew. The Seoul-based artist Seungjin Yang is best known for <Blowing Series>, a suite of bubbly balloon creations in the shape of chairs, benches, stools, and lighting. Shying away from objects that are simply decorative, Yang carefully crafts and assembles each part for ideal structural support. While balloons benefit from elasticity, making it easy to adjust volume and shape, they also harbor an inconvenient desire to burst. By coating them with epoxy resin, he provides the last crucial element – stability. The results are beautiful pieces virtually frozen in time. Yang says that he can see his childhood memories reflected in his chairs, and so can I. The world is a magical place when you are young. Candy is food,  treehouse is spaceship, and floor is lava. How to rekindle that childlike sense of wonder even as you grow older? When balloon is chair.

Heyun: Who are you?

Seungjin: I’m a furniture designer making furniture and lighting by putting epoxy on balloons.

Heyun: How many balloons have you blown so far?

Seungjin: About 3000.

Heyun: There is balloon furniture, and then there are balloon animals. There is a medium shared here, so I’m asking this with respect for the profession, yours and theirs. Would you consider yourself a clown?

Seungjin: I’m making balloons into furniture, delivering happiness to people, and making money from it. I guess that clowns and I are somewhat similar. For me, the balloon is just a tool for making my furniture, so I’ve never thought about it in that way.

Heyun: One often encounters balloons at a Tivoli, birthday party, festival, or wedding. The ”funeral balloon” or ”you’re fired balloon” is not really a thing. Their reason to exist is to spark joy and highlight a happy and festive gathering. So if you’re taking a balloon home, you’re victoriously carrying the supreme trophy of joy and celebration in your hand. Its mayfly-esque lifespan, however, is depressing as its decay starts in mere hours. Quickly, losing its air and shine and dropping towards the floor to die. A wrinkly tiny red raisin is all you have left. In the blink of an eye, the good times are over. Are you cheating death?

Seungjin: I had the same thought when I started to make my furniture. It’s sad to watch a balloon that makes people happy become small and less shiny. I wanted to preserve the happiness by keeping the balloon as it is. At that time, I tested plenty of different materials with epoxy resin, but when I put epoxy on a balloon it became even more beautiful. I really liked how the balloons became shinier and kept their shape after the coating process.

I guess that clowns and I are somewhat similar.

Heyun: With a perfect shape, bright color, and intense shine, they’re closer to the balloon I imagine with my eyes closed than the one I experience in the world with my eyes open. Your balloon looks so much like a balloon that it feels fake and is so perfect that it seems unreal. It’s the archetype of a balloon.

Seungjin: The epoxy coating makes them super glossy and super beautiful. It truly elevates the balloon’s properties.

Heyun: What other objects did you coat in epoxy?

Seungjin: I tried it on bread.

Heyun: Do you still have the bread?

Seungjin: No.

Heyun: Aesthetics aside, why?

Seungjin: Wood needs cutting and metal hammered. Therefore, balloons are much easier to shape. Since it’s empty inside, it’s easier to manipulate and make large sizes without great effort.

Heyun: Everything a balloon wants to do, burst or die, you have to stop. How did you learn to tame it?

Seungjin: At first, I was making lighting out of balloons. It can be fragile and still function. I knew that if I kept perfecting the process, I would manage to make more sturdy structures down the line. The first chair I made wasn’t perfect. Although, over time, I managed to produce solid pieces. The process starts with blowing a balloon into a specific size: I hang it up and coat it with epoxy resin roughly seven times. When it has hardened, I assemble the pieces and glue them together with epoxy. Lastly, they get a final coating.

Heyun: That sounds like LEGO.

Seungjin: It is. Assemble pieces and build something new. When I was little, I loved making and building things. I think this helped me a lot making furniture now. I can see childhood memories reflected in my chairs.

I can see childhood memories reflected in my chairs

Heyun: As far as the “materials to hold my body” trusts go; balloons are scraping the bottom of the list. By recognizing the material from first-hand experience, I have assumptions about it. I know balloons to be unsteady and fragile. It’s the last material on earth I’d trust with my body. Even though I knew that they were coated with epoxy a billion times, I would still experience trust issues. How do people generally interact with your chairs?

Seungjin: Most of the time, people don’t trust my chairs. They get nervous about sitting on them and think it’s going to burst.

Heyun: Is that contradiction interesting to you? My grandpa would be very confused about the idea of an unreliable chair.

Seungjin: I wouldn’t say that my chair is unreliable. It’s very solid. People might think it can be fragile and burst, but it’s actually remarkably stable. I think it’s okay for people to find out later that my chair is strong enough to hold them.

Heyun: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If there’s a chair and no one sits on it, is it still a chair? Is a chair a chair, due to its form or its function?

Seungjin: Yes, of course, it’s still a chair. A chair is still a chair even though no one sits there. For instance, when you get a pair of shoes just for storing them in your wardrobe, they’re still shoes. There will always be a group of people who just use my chair as decoration or use my chair as a chair. I think both are meaningful. 

Heyun: Who would you like to sit on your chairs?

Seungjin: Probably BTS.    

* BTS, a K-pop boy band, is the best-selling artist in South Korean history. BTS became one of the few groups since the Beatles to earn four US number-one albums in less than two years.

* Editor’s note: Jungkook is the hottest member.

Heyun: Do you listen to BTS often?

Seungjin: I don’t listen to them that much, but I think they are really cool, and it’s respectful that they’re playing a big role in spreading Korean culture.

Heyun: The chairs encapsulate air expelled from your lungs. Forever. It’s a sort of a tomb. Have you ever thought of your chairs as your own pyramids? Preserving pieces of yourself to the afterworld. 

Seungjin: It contains my breath and dust from the studio, so I guess it can be considered a tomb. I have thought of ‘how people would think of my furniture in the future?’ a lot. I hope it will evaluate as an interesting work for future generations. 

Heyun: I read an interview where you disagreed when the writer referred to your chairs as sculptures?

Seungjin: It’s difficult to define where I belong, but I want to be an artist. My pieces have started from design, and I believe you can do art with the design. Some people might consider my work as art, and some people might consider my work as design. 

Heyun: Who has inspired you the most?

Seungjin: Maarten Bass and Kwang-Ho Lee. Martin Bass was my favorite designer when I was in college, and Kwang-Ho Lee was a senior at my university. We worked together at the beginning of the project, so he is probably the designer who has had the greatest influence on my work. I like their work, and I think they have some similarities regarding design. 

Heyun: Which is?

Seungjin: They value how it looks, a focus on aesthetics and form. 

Heyun: What do you value?

Seungjin: I also value how things look. I aspire to pursue natural beauty. I want people to think my pieces are different, to stay curious, and to enjoy my work as it is.

Heyun: Is there anything you want to add?

Seungjin: I wish people could enjoy my work as it is.

Heyun: Could you elaborate on that?

Seungjin: As it is. I just want people to enjoy my work and enjoy it as it is and to think freely.

PhotographyKove Lee
InterviewHeyun Yoonie Ham
TranslationHeyun Yoonie Ham