say hi to_ Wonmin Park
Not only has Paris historically been the epicentre for creative thinking in Europe but a place where foreign masters have flocked to over the past few hundred years. Foreign thinkers and creatives melt together with the strong local culture and liberté, or creative “freedom”, which has produced some of the world’s most famed artists and pieces. France has always been a country which has gladly welcomed foreign talents to set up shop on it’s beautiful (yet dog shit splattered) cobbled streets.
Wonmin Park, a double expat, hailing from Seoul, South Korea via Eindhoven in The Netherlands - landed in Paris six years ago, when the famed Carpenter’s Workshop Galley brought him to the City of Light. Inspiring a lot of the current trends we see in the South Korean design landscape, Wonmin merged the aesthetic and sensibility cultivated in native Seoul with the freedom and material exploration he learned in Eindhoven and the refinement and quality of craftsmanship in Paris.
We have a look at the contemporary creative scene of France from another perspective, the expat designers perspective, in our interview with Wonmin Park. I chat to Wonmin about what it is like to live, work and establish a business in France as a foreigner, his experiences and the differences between working in South Korea, The Netherlands and France as well as getting your work in front of the right people at the beginning of your career.
| Kristen | Can you please introduce yourself and what you do?
| Wonmin | My name is Wonmin Park and I’m from Korea. I lived and worked in The Netherlands for nine years. I studied at the Design Academy in Eindhoven and I graduated in late 2011. I’m an industrial designer, a furniture designer and I moved to Paris a few years ago.
| Kristen | So what is a typical work day for you?
| Wonmin | It’s half half, one half of the work is to work on current projects which are pending and the other half of the day I am focusing on new projects. Now I am focused on metal projects which are based on aluminium, using a patina technique.
| Kristen | So when you have a new project, you start with exploring the materials or?
| Wonmin | My way of working may be different from other designers. I’m not really a traditional industrial designer, I’m a bit more handwork or technique based. I’m not doing all of this myself but have a team whose work fits to my eye, my aesthetic and direction. At the beginning I’m thinking more about the concept and then after that I am creating something where my aesthetic and the new technique fit to each other.
For me, my aim is that many people are asking if stories are important in my design and of course it should be the base but I wanted it to be that stories that the objects can tell themselves. It is about material, that the material has their own characters and feelings. The function maybe. That is important.
| Kristen | What are some things you have to do at work?
| Wonmin | At the beginning of my period I did everything by myself. So first prototypes… I had many roles myself. I had to be the producer, the designer, the logistics organiser. Now I minimalized everything.
So now I am focused just on the creative part. I always want my work to be fresh. I’m discovering that my work from the beginning, so from painting to drawing, creating new textures - something like this. Inspiration point. Then we find out which direction we go in, also my work - what has already been done and my new work needs to be coherent. So that is my aim - to always do something fresh, something that might influence certain trends in the design world maybe. That is the only way that I think that I can survive and stay relevant.
I’m spending a lot of time focusing on how I can make fresher work.
| Kristen | So you send a lot of time conceptualising, researching and playing with ideas?
| Wonmin | The forward thinking work is also based on the design history and then I know what is a new idea and what is not.
| Kristen | You need to be up to date on what has already been done..
| Wonmin | Yeah so I spend a lot of time researching and reading books.
| Kristen | Did either of your parents work in furniture design?
| Wonmin | No my father was an officer in the government.
| Kristen | So what made you decide to go into furniture?
| Wonmin | I studied architecture before in Korea, the men like to always make something.. I don’t know like naturally when I look back on my student period from elementary school onwards, I really enjoyed making and creating something… more than other kids maybe. I thought that my job should be something that I could enjoy so architecture is between creative and intellectual, so I chose that and then after that I was more interested in design.
Architecture is a bit more about teamwork, it’s slow, the scale is very large… After that I decided to design and then I was also interested in Dutch Design. This was about 15 years ago and at that time Dutch Design was very famous and I decided to go study in The Netherlands.
| Kristen | You moved to Holland to study your masters?
| Wonmin | I studied my bachelors in Holland.
Photo Credit_ Calypso Mahieu
| Kristen | So you did architecture already and then you did another undergraduate degree?
| Wonmin | Yeah but I didn’t finish my architecture degree. I was thinking to myself, should I finish or should I just move on now or?
| Kristen | When you know that you don’t want to do it… I mean I was the same I did photography and then I left and then I came back a few years later and I did graphic design.
| Wonmin | Theres something about it that is snobby in a way.. I’m not dealing with my degree I am dealing with my work.
| Kristen | Yeah that’s what I wanted to ask actually! Did you think that it was important to have a university degree for what you do now?
| Wonmin | It’s, let’s say - easier. It’s easier. If I didn’t have a degree then maybe I would need justify myself more whereas when I say that I studies design, I graduated from this school etc - people take me more seriously. They can think - Ah he did the basic studies.
| Kristen | So for other designers do you think that it is important to have a degree in terms of what you learn or more important because it ‘opens doors’ so to speak?
| Wonmin | I mean when we see the design world, there are a few designers who didn’t study design properly so the famous architects they didn’t study architecture but they are famous. I could see that they had to make a bigger effort and put more energy into their work. I heard that sometimes if somebody didn’t study photography for instance, could have a different eye and make more interesting work than someone who for instance, had studied photography.
| Kristen | Yeah well it is something that I think you can see for instance in French graphic design. A lot of young designer’s work looks very similar because they all went to the same schools which teach a quite rigid program, for the ones who went to school… and yeah I guess that one thing is if they were self taught, they were not taught to do it a certain way so they just do what they feel.
| Kristen | Can you briefly compare the design landscapes of The Nethlands, Korea and France? How are they different or alike?
| Wonmin | France has real history so for me that creative art, this culture is already integrated into design. They are very good. Within the culture the people really appreciate and know what is good etc. The French design is also more focused on like elegance, rich culture maybe but now it is changing a bit somehow.
Holland is doesn’t have as much of a rich culture as France but they are always on the cutting edge of art, design. Their contributing party is a bit different, they always want to make the avant garde in a way. Now also what young designers are doing is also always a bit avant garde and experimental.
So in the Netherlands and France there are a lot of young up and coming designers… but in Korea they are more focused on industrial aspects. The environment is also a bit different. Our country developed in a very short time and we are now kind of a rich country and the culture still has to catch up to that, I think. It’s very compressed.
| Kristen | Can you define the styles of those countries? For instance, for me, French design would be ornamental, The Netherlands I would associate with forward thinking and avant garde and as for Korean, I would think it is some sort of mix between experimental and minimalistic. What would your interpretations be?
| Wonmin | French design has many spectrums, so when you see Bouroullec brothers work or Phillip Starck is different but I can tell that there is a French touch, you know what that looks like. Even industrial products… When somebody asks me what Dutch Design is maybe I could say experimental design, many spectrums of experimental. Korean is then a bit more commercial maybe.
What I think some designers are doing well is using aesthetics. We are not Italian design, we are not French design so what we can compare to is finding our own voice. There is a new generation and they need to transform. We still have to create what is Korean design. From what you know, Japanese design is not something that has been around for a long time - it’s been created by people recently. Iconic Korean design is mobile phone or electronic products, or car design, industrial design. Design is mainly for mass production, the scene for independent design is a new paradigm.
| Kristen | Do you see any big differences in work life between Korea, France and The Netherlands?
| Wonmin | The thing is that I haven’t worked in Korea. I’ve had friends and I know what is the conditions in Korea but I started my professional life in the Design Academy in Eindhoven. The Netherlands they are very direct and honest. Historically they are very business based people, they are direct and telling exactly what they want. They are not afraid to do new things.
France s still a continuation, French people have a rich culture already and they are more conservative than other countries as well. Paris and London are kind of comparable. Other cities like London or New York have a lot of new up and coming designers but in Paris they mainly like to work with designers who they know already.
Photo Credit_ Calypso Mahieu
| Kristen | I think it’s very hard here for young designers. it is even hard for me to find them, and when I do find them I ask them “Why don’t you put more of your work online?”. They always tell me ‘You have to know people’.
| Kristen | What is the most difficult about living and working abroad?
| Wonmin | Maybe the society I think. I’m a foreigner and I will always be a foreigner here. I’m not afraid of that part, it is sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing. For them, I am quite fresh as well. I’m enjoying that and if something is difficult it is better to enjoy.
It’s difficult to imagine that I can live here for all of my life because still I think that I am not living, I feel more like I am just visiting. I don’t have family here, I have friends but not as much as in Korea.
| Kristen | Do you think you want to stay in Europe or you mentioned last time that you may want to go to New York?
| Wonmin | Visa problems are always occurring, as a foreigner I have to tell them everything about what I am doing, where I am living. I am spending a lot of time and money for these things, such as the lawyer and visa paperwork.
| Kristen | Oh I know it well, it is such a pain in the ass.
| Kristen | You became successful quite young, what was the most important instance which gained you exposure?
| Wonmin | At the beginning, actually many young designers ask me about this. Right away when I graduated school I wondered what should I do? There are no rules. You need to know what do you want? To be an independent designer you need to really find out what is your talent.
| Kristen | Did something happen for instance, did you win a contest or what was the first time that you got a lot of media exposure?
| Wonmin | At the beginning, after graduation some famous designers came out from the graduation show at that time, 6 years ago or so, but my work was not apart of that. I spent some time, 3 or 4 months thinking about what I should do, I had family pushing me - should I start to work for a company? Working for a company seemed like the most natural thing, something my parents perhaps expected. At that time I had a one year visa in Europe so I could only stay one year. I studied at the design academy in Eindhoven, which is quite avant garde and experimental design, which is not really industrial design. I came to study in the Netherlands not to work in a big company and it would have been a pity if I stopped my personal work and went back to that. So, I took some freelance work, earned some money and then there was only one chance for me. I was thinking, how should I handle this? The only way a designer can survive is that my work needs to be really fresh, avant garde in a way. So I started to discover aesthetic part and practical aspects at the same time. This is how my work has continued until now. It's the same philosophy. In that aspect, it needs to be a reflection of what is going on now.
| Kristen | Do you use social media at all to do PR for your work or do you use a PR agency or how do you get your work seen?
| Wonmin | I have a PR agency now but it is for my gallery, not for me personally. So basically I do my PR work myself. At the beginning it was the same.
| Kristen | Do you send newsletters? What advice could you give to young designers about how to get their work seen when they start producing work?
| Wonmin | The current environment is always changing and for example like five years ago, with social media - Facebook was the best but nowadays it seems like instagram is the best. I think I'm not really good social media, so I prefer to focus on what I am good at -laughs- But I know that I'm not good at social media but I try to use it..!
| Kristen | Well you know, if you need help - that's kinda my thang.
| Wonmin | You're good with social media, I can see that! Your content is interesting but if I take the same picture, it's a different style so.
Photo Credit_ Calpyso Mahieu
| Kristen | Did you ever have a mentor?
| Wonmin | While I was in school I did. I learned a lot from the academy actually, it was a good school.
The Korean education is kind of a one way street - from the teacher to the student. Wheras The Netherlands is more like - it's yours - do it yourself, the way that you want to!
| Kristen | But do they guide you at least?
| Wonmin | Yeah I mean, I had some lectures and classes and I noticed that creative things are sometimes difficult to teach. The only way to survive is to always be fresh and they just give you some direction to which way you should play with the materials.
| Kristen | Were your classes in English or in Dutch?
| Wonmin | English. There were a lot of Dutch mixed in but the classes were in English. Most Dutch people speak good English anyways… Everyone.
| Kristen | I just wondering if you went to school in a different country… I mean in France for instance I don't think you can study at a French University in English? I could be wrong but I don't think that is really a thing. Because I would love to go back and study something here as it is more or less free, but I would have to do it IN French and it is one thing to talk to someone in a bar in French but I can't imagine writing 10 page papers in French...
| Wonmin | Yeah I was interested in studying architecture in Basel but French was required so…
| Kristen | How do you know what to price your work? Is that hard to figure out at the beginning or did you always have a gallery to help you with pricing?
| Wonmin | No, the galleries only come once you already have things selling or to sell… At the beginning it was hard I didn't know what the prices should be and sometimes I got e-mailed, I'm a young designer and I don't know what to charge for my work. It's the same story. I calculated with the production cost. I needed to find the most affordable prices that were still fair for the buyer. So at the beginning I didn't earn much profit, it was mainly just a price covering the cost of materials, I just wanted to get the work out there.
| Kristen | How do you go about selling your work? Now it is generally through a gallery but before how did you sell it?
| Wonmin | I made my work and then I uploaded my work to Dezeen or famous websites like Design Boom… I just researched and then I tried to find famous and influential online media platforms. Some people contacted me through that but it was not clients.. it was more galleries or something like this. Clients are coming after. They are not really experts, they need the galleries to show them. So in 2013 I first debuted my work in Dubai but I didn't sell anything there but I shook the hand of the King of Dubai.
Photo Credit_ Calpso Mahieu
| Kristen | -laughs- Why not?! But…. He didn't want a chair?!
| Wonmin | I also showed my work at Rossana Orlandi in 2013 and then actually I had a lot of success in Milan. It was one of the most popular pieces that year and i got a lot of publicity for that. Some of the people came from Dubai to buy my work in Milan because in Dubai the design fair is a bit related to the art fair and art collectors are kind of my main clients.
Art collectors are always traveling and they came to Milan and they were my first clients. After I could prepare work for the National Museum of Korea. The museum didn't give me a lot of money so they gave me the opportunity to show my work in a big space so I made 8 new pieces immediately. That collection got other galleries interested. Galleries are specialists and they can kind of spot when a designer is talented and on their way up.
| Kristen | It must have been difficult at the beginning when you only get enough money for the production…
| Wonmin | I really started with nothing honestly. My parents and my family, I couldn't ask them for money. Especially if I don't go home - laughs -
| Kristen | It's the same with my parents " Mom, Dad - can I have some money? " " NO, Why aren't you living in America?? What are you doing?". They think that I am like on an extended vacation.
| Wonmin | Yeah! Yes same thing…!
| Kristen | So do you have a favorite material to work with?
| Wonmin | Now my favorite material is resin.
| Kristen | Yes you're quite famous for this.
| Wonmin | Yeah I'm very used to working with this material but I am interested in other materials. I'm not working with metal and perhaps that will end up become my favorite… but when I start to do this material (resin) this material was not so popular yet. So I founded new techniques using this material so I can say that I am comfortable with this material. There were not many people using resin at this time and we still had problems for instance with cracking, using this technique…
| Kristen | Yeah I remember the last time I talked to you, you told me it took a few years to get the perfect process because you have this kind of translucent effect.
| Wonmin | There are also sponsors like galleries who try new techniques but at the same time it's very painful because I spent a lot of time and money before.. using a material but then it was the wrong material, failed, failed, failed and it was a pain you know?
| Kristen | But that is how you learn but I can imagine sometimes you must just feel like you want to give up.
| Kristen | So what is a dream project for you?
| Wonmin | I want to really complete my work. I'm still discovering myself and I'm still discovering what I want to do.. so when I finish one project and then discovering what kind of things I want to continue doing.
So the beginning of your questions was like 'What do you want to be doing' and that is a bit difficult to answer but now I can tell that it is a continuation of things… so at first I made this and then I wanted to make something new but different from the past projects but still coherent. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to do. My intention is to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to complete my works. During school my English was terrible but I still remember I was in a painting class and the teacher said 'When you have your work then it is graduation'. That saying stayed in my mind, so I wanted to have my work.
| Kristen | What is your favorite project that you've worked on already and why?
| Wonmin | I really enjoyed my project with marble for Wallpaper commission project because it was very large scale. It was also the most expensive piece I've ever created as well.
Photo Credit_ Carl Kleiner for Wallpaper*
| Kristen | So how does that work? Wallpaper pays for that?
| Wonmin | No I don't think so, they ask the companies, suppliers and the designers we are planning, having a conversation together to collaborate.
| Kristen | Yeah but I mean I guess it is so much media exposure that everyone is willing to contribute what they can.
| Kristen | Can you describe the contemporary design landscape in France?
| Wonmin | In design there are two parts, independent designers, one is more mass production furniture and one is more like gallery work. I think the Bouroullec brothers are representing contemporary French design well. It's like what I told you before of what you 'think' Japanese design is, someone created that idea. In France the café, like the Costas brother created this 'French Style'. This was not existing before. Japanese design like Nendo, for instance, created what we know as Japanese design. That is what I was saying what we need to do in Korea.
| Kristen | Ah I see, so you mean for Korea for instance, you need that one big star who defines the style. You can go back and do it!!
| Wonmin | If Korean's do what the Japanese do, we just need to do it in a different way. Design is the same, if you want to be noticed you need to be different. That part is always difficult.
| Kristen | I'm excited, I really want to see what Korea's design scene develops into because what I've seen so far… I see some really interesting things coming from there. It's kind of playful.
| Wonmin | Yes also there are a lot of places, perhaps you even know more places than I do because I am not really that interested in popular design anymore, I'm more focused on my identity and my style and I'm not interested in what trends are happening. At the beginning I was really interested and researched all the time, what is going on here or there.
| Kristen | That's probably a good method though because then you don't let it influence what you do.
| Wonmin | Yeah. I've gone a bit more in the 'artists' way.
| Kristen | So what do you think the DNA of Paris is?
| Wonmin | The reason that I came to Paris was to be in what I see as one of the most influential cities in Europe. It has such a deep culture, decorative arts started here.
Italian design, French design. Italian design is also amazing but French design has something really interesting. France has a history of hosting many artists.
| Kristen | There really is something about this city, in terms on inspiration… I feel completely different than when I lived in Berlin. When I'm here, even though there are a lot of creative people in Berlin, there is something about Paris that makes me excited to work everyday. I'm inspired by the country, the buildings. For me, Paris is perfect. New York is too expensive, it's better than London though because in New York they pay more money -laughs-
| Wonmin | Yeah I went to New York two weeks ago and I always question myself… New York is fabulous, the scale is unbelievable but the life is tough. New York is all about business for me, but here I see more percentage of people living a creative life.
| Kristen | Yeah I also think that it is easier to be creative here than in New York in my opinion because people here live outside of work. In New York you only work. You don't really have fun, go on vacation, we don't fully enjoy life.
Whereas here you work, then you go have a wine on a terrace with your friends, you eat good food, talk all night, have sex whatever and then go back to work and you're full of ideas and in New York you don't even have time to like barely take a shower in the morning. It's just work work work work work!