URBAN TATTOOS

Urban Research Project

2013
Skin has become inadequate in interfacing with reality. Technology has become the body's new membrane of existence.
Nam June Paik
 
Buildings in Seoul don’t have facades; they have screens, surfaces that are at the mercy of signage.  Signage, be it commercial, institutional, personal or any other form spreads like weed, aggressively colonizing its host and until ultimately mutating the original species.
 
Like human tattoos, urban tattoos penetrate the skin, but differ in the fact that their message isn’t simply aesthetical, symbolic or depictive.  Urban tattoos manifest the building’s inner organs, acting as a programmatic x-ray, a form of legal consumer graffiti that allows customers to mentally penetrate the building.
The excess of the urban tattoo eventually counter-magnetizes buildings, its visual statement being so loud that eventually buildings disappear.  The city becomes hypnotized by signage into a persistent state of déjà-vu and in the process disabling most human orientation faculties.
 
However urban tattoos possess a collective, nearly primitive, aesthetical quality that most cities want to neutralize.  Taken singularly they are common and redundant signs, but as a united front they become the foreground of the city.  In an age where everything aims to be (pseudo) designed, urban tattoos remain out of the control of architects, who usually deplore them, and urban planners who dismiss their effect on the city as a sort of vandalism.
 
Scorpions, crosses, roses, hearts, anchors and all other indelible bodily decorations are replaced by telephone numbers, restaurants names, doctor’s surgeries, religious sayings, bible quotations and endless brands. Logos become architectural flash sheets (mass-produced from copyrighted tattoo design catalogues) from which the owners, not the architect, select a stencil to impregnate the dermis of their building.
Facades are complex, expensive and permanent, while tattoos are straightforward, cheap, and removable.  Their materials are usually printed adhesive plastic film; they can have their own light boxes and can be applied to virtually any surface.
 
These tattoos are a refreshing reminder that Seoul is an organism and not a manufactured product.  They contribute to Seoul’s unashamedly urban condition, preventing and protecting from the “Generic Midas Syndrome”, which homogenizes and gentrifies all that it touches. Tattoos prevent monumentality; they create layering, intensify the experience of the street and ultimately contribute to make Seoul what it is today, authentic.
RESEARCH PROJECT

The above research was carried out as part of a research project funded by SNU (Seoul National University) between 2009- 2010.  The full article on the subject was published in SPACE Magazine October 2010 #515.

DATE
2010

COLLABORATORS
Boreum, Lee (SNU)
HUT
EXHIBITION REVIEW
JUMP
AIK LECTURE
INTERVIEW
PLASTIC ARCHITECTURE
BOOKMARKS
HOME PUBLICATION
SNOWMAN
WIDE PUBLICATION
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