Design as a means of tearing down oppressive thoughts

Original Post Here.

Photo: It’s Nice That by Handi Kim

Handi Kim gravitated to the visual arts as a means of communicating with other people in a non-verbal way. As she puts it, “to share thoughts and feel empathy with one another, and to feel empowered.” Having grown in a conservative city in South Korea, the newly graduated graphic designer was accustomed to strict gender roles where a girl knew what she could and could not do. “There were some unbearable virtues assigned to a specific gender,” she says, but as a result, Handi developed a need to express her true self, and she did that through the arts.

Now, she uses her practice as a way to deconstruct oppressive and discriminatory ideas. “This is what I truly imagine design to be about and what I desire to do with it,” she explains. For Handi, design became a form of liberation outside of verbal language. While she used to “hold words inside of my gut”, creativity gave her the freedom and confidence to speak through ideas. And since then, she says, “I could no longer be constrained by verbal words, ideologies or norms anymore.”

A recent graduate from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, Handi spent her time at university working on a myriad of projects from publication and poster design to performance, illustration, animation and most recently, game design. Here, she tells us about her interactive maze-like game Sandwitch, the impressive technical programming behind it, and much more.

It’s Nice That: You’ve been working on a couple of amazing interactive projects including Sandwich (your new game) and also the virtual world you are working on with The Rodina. Tell us how you first became interested in interactive design?

Handi Kim: My early graphic designs were more two dimensional: illustration, animation, publications and so on. It was more one-sided communication. The only way I got to talk to other people was when I participated in art fairs, and I wanted my work to be closer to an audience, to deliver my thoughts to people and get their feedback. I wanted viewers to be active in my work, so I made it happen. This led to an expansion in artistic tools from performance, coding, 3D craft, etc. And the transition really helped me to change my own artistic role from a graphic designer to a multidisciplinary designer.

INT: If you had to pick a favourite project from the past year, which one are you most proud of and why?

HK: Sandwitch is my proudest project; a graduation piece which started last year in 2020. It took almost one year to finish, from writing the thesis about identity-related topics to making the game in real life! What amazed me most is the fact it is the first project I’ve ever presented to the public to share my thoughts with them. It was a real success to genuinely communicate with people through the work.

Handi Kim “I feel more comfortable using alternative languages rather than literal language, and this affects the way I approach my artworks”

In Sandwitch, I built a world to reflect on society, a hetero normative, gendered society. Some players have messaged me and let me know their interpretation of the game. I said hello to them and they said hello back. Then we started sharing thoughts. For me, this was the moment of connection and that is why it’s my proudest project.

INT: You have a super distinct visual language which you’ve described as “mirroring the ‘un-pretty’ parts of society and transcoding them into diverse visual languages with humour and quirkiness”. Can you tell us a bit more about this fascinating approach?

HK: I feel more comfortable using alternative languages rather than literal language, and this affects the way I approach my artworks. Instead of visualizing my ideas in an easily understandable way, I take detours, creating a critical narrative which can be reflected on. Most of my narratives derive from serious topics that affect me, such as misogyny and Asian hate. I intentionally hide these serious core messages behind quirky and humorous visuals which catch the viewer’s eyes. Like riding a rollercoaster in an amusement park, I would love the viewer to jump on the world that I built until they are fully immersed.

INT: Your new game SandWitch sounds super interesting. I understand it’s a 3D maze game where the user questions how they are being manipulated by images throughout the maze. Tell us more about the game and how you created it? When and where can we play it?

Sandwitch started with reflections on my idols growing up. When we were young, we wished to become like that idol we really loved. But, have we ever thought why we wished to be like that person specifically? From this thought, I questioned the images that were long admired. I wondered whether the image of an idol could be created not by our own autonomous preference, but more by societal preference. I imagined that we are living in a space that is a complicated maze built by society. A maze where society produces tempting propaganda and lets our eyes dizzy so to not take them in critically.

This maze lets us doubtlessly follow society’s preferable image. I wanted to let people experience an attempt to escape from this maze and reflect on their own idols who they’ve admired. In turn, I solidified this idea through the game Sandwitch. The game itself has four stages. Each stage has a mission, the first is to recognise what we’ve been taking for granted. The second is to escape from the maze of societal images. The third is to collect a genuine asset for your idol and the fourth allows you to build your own idol.

It’s a three-dimensional game. The game mechanism I used is an FPS (first-person shooter game) so the player can feel real as if they are really in there. This project is in collaboration with Yeong Die, a sound artist (KR), and Dongju Park, a writer (KR). Font Contribution is by Dahseul Jung, a graphic designer (KR).

The prototype of this game was launched at the graduation show at KABK. The project will be published online possibly this year. The date is not specifically set, but you will find more information soon via my Instagram or website.

“When we were young, we wished to become like that idol we really loved. But, have we ever thought why we wished to be like that person specifically?”

INT: There are so many interesting facets to your practice from poster design, publication design to game design and more! What are the benefits of having such a multi-disciplinary practice? Is there a particular direction you’d like to focus on in the future?

HK: What I truly hope to achieve through design is to communicate and share ideas with each other. Especially when it comes to activist content, though it might be taken delicately by some people. I want my work to have multiple different ways where people can talk about it. Like the way there are a bunch of ways to start a conversation with people, I truly think there are tons of ways to share my ideas with people (to say hello successfully!). This is why my artistic practice is based on diverse facets. And this is why I call myself a multidisciplinary designer. As for the future, I would love to start my career as a director/producer for a comprehensive art project including fashion and sound art, and performance for the brand Handiii. I am very much looking forward to speaking to more people!

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