An Alien, Parametric Space
Before 2012, the creation and construction of the DDP complex was heavily (and correctly) criticized as a project as motivated purely out of the desire to construct an object of Dubordian Spectacle. (Yun) However, the proof in the theorital pudding that was the DDP megastructure project, as the prototype and proving ground for Zaha Hadid's heavily theoretical and aspirational new conception of "Parametricism 2.0" (Schumacher), would be found in the burgeoning street fashion culture that was the result of several aspects of Seoul's unique infrastructural and cultural backdrop. Firstly, the burgeoning street fashion culture was clustered (and limited by) the rigidity of a Seoul Fashion Week event that was housed mostly at SETEC and other places, when the so-called paepi could barely find form as a nigh-subculture. The paepi, while SFW was at SETEC, were literal outsiders to the formal fashion field. But when SFW became permanently housed at DDP, the "multi-modality" (Schumacher) enabled by its Parametricist features allowed the nascent paepi subculture to explode like gasoline thrown onto an open flame when the DDP opened in 2012. When analyzed against the fact of Seoul's already extant "flexible sociality" (Cho), the DDP ended up being a perfect fit with the city of Seoul and its urban(e) cultures, especially as it became both a spatial link to and staging ground for the cultural manifestations of the industrial infrastructures of the Dongdaemun textile complex. The flowering of the paepi is only the first success case and example, and only the initial fruit of the fortuitous convergence of Seoul's inherent flexible sociality and the multi-modality of the space inside, outside, within, and around the DDP. (277 words)
KEYWORDS: DDP, paepi, street fashion, Dongdaemun, flexible sociality, Parametricism, Seoul Fashion Week
First Things First
I was the first "street fashion" photographer in Korea, with a body of work of clothing-oriented ethnographic portraiture that stretches back to 2006, shooting Seoul Fashion Week "paepi" (패션 피플) since late 2007. So, I've been doing ethnographic research on the paepi for more than a decade and was already documenting them when their culture exploded with the opening of the DDP in 2012. Before that, their socio-sartorial energy was relegated to the periphery of the fashion field, and literally and figuratively speaking, to the parking lot of the socio-spatial map of the fashion field as symbolised during important events such as Seoul Fashion Week.
Background of the Paper
During my class on Hallyu Marketing, I had asked the question of how the Dongdaemun Design Plaza building itself worked to define a particular, peculiar kind of social space for the street fashion scene during Seoul Fashion Week. And it occcured to me that one factor in the explosion of the street fashion scene at DDP after it opened in 2012 was the way the nature of the structure itself set the tone for a new kind of social/sartorial culture, bounded spatially by the “alien” structure of the "spaceship" and temporally by the SFW event itself. In short, the conditions of the fashion field shifted, as the DDP helped the paepi rewrite their position on the map of the fashion field even as the paepi changed the very meaning and relative position/power of the main players in that field – high fashion designers and their runway shows – and it is my contention that the relative positions of those formerly at the top and bottom of the field in terms of position and power, high fashion designers on the deep inside and the paepi street fashion “kids” at the periphery, has switched completely. The paepi, helped by the alien spatiality of the DDP, have flipped the field.
Much ado has been made about the "alienness" of the DDP structure. From "Embracing the Alien Spaceship" in the Korea Herald to the same spacey sentiment being echoed by CNN Travel and The Korea Times, and even received a (literal) sendup video put together by what appears to be some Arirang TV folks in their spare time.
In short, the association with aliens was clear and immediate, and initially set off alarm bells around a long, publicly funded project that had been fraught with construction issues, clashing political agendas among myriad actors, and the jarring, sheer alienness of a structure that was a monument to Parametricism and quite likely a milestone in the future of architecture and human relationships to the built environment, but in that very way, was just plain strange. But it is that very strangeness of the building that I'd like to explore here, as my observations of the street fashion culture at Seoul Fashion Week since it opened the building in 2012 have indicated that the strangeness of the building is what imbued the space it physically defines with a different, broader range of social options and actions that was very un-Korean and enabled a certain kind of social and sartorial freedom to thrive – a place where Seoul’s “flexible sociality” was amplified by the building’s “multi-modal” design imperative. The "spaceship” is surrounded and filled with a "force field" of social and sartorial openness with a power generated by the twice yearly Seoul fashion Week event. The SFW event permanently held twice a year at the DDP defines a unique place in social spacetime in which all bets and restrictive social norms are off, and provide a social cover under which the social "freaks" do indeed feel free to "come out", to use the words of the old Whodini standard.
Developing the Aesthetic of Seoul's Hyperreality
As a photographer, I had the goal of creating a lookbook (done in tandem with Korea Fashion News/섬유신문) that 1) addresses the nature of DDP during SFW as an un-Korean space for social aliens, and 2) provides an aesthetic match for the documentation of DDP during SFW as a space of Hyperreality, and 3) offers an aesthetic and stylistic consistency between the pictures in the collection as a lookbook.
This hypermodern aesthetic is characterized by:
- Heavily mediated reality. Instagram filters, frames, everything. All aspects of the images' initial mediation -- from filters and frames and exposure fixes -- are included as a part of the final image. It's as important as the initial moment of imagemaking itself.
- Spatial and social layering. The images should ideally match the idea of showing the subject in relation to "a space of simultaneity" in which layers of space and spaces of social action are visible, in the way that the unique conception and construction of the building encourage flow, and the use of the spaces that have no delineated end or beginning, inside or outside, in which "each space is made unique and memorable in its articulation, albeit without fragmenting the overall aesthetic" Photographically, this means a sense of layers and separations between elements and actors, yet they are unified within the frame, without a feeling of discrete separation between them, in the way the building structure allows for the unique kind of relationship and type of social interaction the building was designed to engender.
- Surreal affect. A "flashy," commercial, unreal look.
- Close-up, direct portraiture. The eyeline of the subject goes directly into the lens and the gazer. It's a direct, intimate connection that anchors what is obviously the central element and offers a point of direct communication with the viewer.
Two Prongs of Investigation
- Documenting an extant culture of Hyperreality with the proper tools, along with written theory, as an academic paper utilizing standard academic tools such as recorded audio interviews.
- An expression of Hyperreality through heavily mediated, aesthetically enhanced Visuals as a commercially viable Lookbook.
Here are some theoretical strings I've found that seem to be worth pulling, some possible points of attaching good theoretical handles to this whole thing.
Also worthy of consideration is the idea of consuming alienness itself, or difference itself. Of particular interest in the interview and interactions I've had was the idea of differently alien spaces in the trendy Itaewon/Kyeongnidan/Haebangchon are being "exotic" (이국적인) places overflowing with a feeling of "freedom."(자유) Here are a couple of the representative interview/interaction/portraits. It remains to be seen if I'm going to tie this into the DDP Alien structure idea or spin it off as another paper unto itself.
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