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15th Unlimited Edition Seoul Art Book Fair 2023 – Tour with two Thai designers


Published on 08 January 2024
First published in Thai on 01 DEC 2023 at Cont-reading

Story and pictures by: Namsai Supavong & Boom-Promphan Suksumek
Translated and proofread by: Rossatorn Kajkumjorndet


Amidst all the buzz about soft power in Thai society, South Korea has always been a significant point of reference. It’s like if South Korea were a person, they’d probably be sneezing from all the attention they’re getting. I’m one of the Thais who’ve fallen for South Korea’s allure, but the stereotypical Korean music, movies, or series are not the ones bringing me here. This time, my trip to Korea was all about exploring the art and design landscapes.


Over the past four days, I’ve immersed myself in numerous exhibitions. Among them, the ‘15th Unlimited Edition - Seoul Art Book Fair 2023’ stands out distinctly, earning a place among the top three experiences that have left an indelible mark on my heart.


The ‘15th Unlimited Edition - Seoul Art Book Fair 2023’ is Seoul’s annual gathering celebrating independent publishing and art books. Spearheaded by YourMind, an independent publishing house, this event has been a tradition since 2009.


This year, it unfolded at the Buk-Seoul Museum of Art from November 3rd to 5th, 2023. Interestingly, the event doesn’t stick to a fixed schedule; in some years, it aligns with similar months, while in others, it completely shifts, like the September occurrences. So, I’d strongly recommend checking the dates well in advance for anyone planning to attend next year.




Before stepping into the main room of the illustration fair, let’s check out what's happening around it.


One of the elements of the event that caught my eye and drew a lot of attention was the organizer’s setup. It served as a backdrop for visitors who bought items at the event, offering a perfect spot for a quick snapshot. Plus, sharing those photos on Instagram could give you a chance to win a hat and bag – pretty neat, right?


Adjacent to that, there’s a small area where visitors can sit down and sketch pictures related to the books they bought. I found this approach brilliant because instead of seeking opinions or feedback on a particular subject like usual, they encouraged drawings, fostering a more creative interaction.
Next, there’s this temporary library zone courtesy of whatreallymatters, a key sponsor of this year’s event. They’ve handpicked 200 books from a whopping collection of 3,000 for visitors to dive into. These books fall under four categories: The Vagrant, The Alchemist, The Child, and The Watchman. Honestly, I found out about these categories while writing this article, so it’s a bit of a miss that I didn’t discover their differences earlier.


Here’s the surprise twist: whatreallymatters happens to be an organization established by the Seoul City Government (like BMA in the Thai context), focusing on supporting experimental activities in the design and publishing sphere. This explains why the event is free to enter, considering the level of organization and investment it probably demands. Their website is a gem, and it’s hard to believe a government entity runs it. They’re doing some awe-inspiring work!





The final standout that caught my eye is this cleverly designed shelf showcasing products from all the booths at the art book fair. It’s a nifty solution that gives you a quick overview of everything. You can scope out each booth’s vibe before deciding which ones pique your interest. It’s a lifesaver for curious folks who might feel a bit too reserved or low on energy to engage directly with the artist at work.


But I’m guessing the organizers did not intend it to be used this way because the main draw of these events is the direct interaction between buyers and artists. However, introverted souls like me, who sometimes struggle to muster the energy for constant interactions, ended up visiting every booth regardless - as many booths did not display their items on this shelf.


Enough with the warming up; now is the time to encounter an army of more than 221 printing booths.


Most visitors milling around these booths were South Koreans, with a few foreigners from Japan, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Europe. This event vividly depicted South Korea’s independent publishing design industry, showcasing current trends and styles.


Trying to sum up the diverse work styles I encountered is a challenge. Honestly, I lack the vocabulary to well-categorize these styles properly. But, if I were to explain it to my friends, I’d describe the overall vibe as cute, bright, and playful, focusing on narrating everyday stories.


Interestingly, many booths prioritize experimenting with the binding techniques over the content. (Or I skipped through content-heavy sections by default because I lacked Korean language skills.)


Another interesting observation was the predominance of female exhibitors. I’m uncertain if this trend is common in other countries, but it caught my attention. Similar events in Singapore and Thailand have shown a similar dynamic, although not as clearly. Taking about 30 minutes to count and observe, I found that out of 221 booths, 138 were run solely by women (62%). Following closely were 45 mixed-gender booths (20.4%) and 34 all-male booths (15.4%). As for the remaining four booths, no one was there when I walked by, so I couldn’t identify the gender distribution. (Note: Gender identification is solely based on birth gender and my personal judgment.)



Namsai’s Review

Let me share three standout booths that caught my eye.


Since my full-time job is related to information design and collecting personal data, I am naturally drawn to exhibits exploring this realm.


The first booth took me by surprise. I stumbled upon a book called ‘Across the Bridge’ and was captivated by its table of contents, crafted in the shape of a bridge. It was so impressive that I couldn’t resist snapping a photo. But a few steps away, I felt compelled to compliment the owner. Returning to the booth, I expressed my admiration, sparking a conversation about the book's contents.


Discovering that it was a compilation of the author’s reflections while traversing 23 bridges over the Han River deepened my fascination with delving into personal narratives. Despite the author, Kang Mingel, repeatedly asking if I could read Korean (which I can't, but I will use Google Translate!), I felt like I just had to purchase it.





The next booth was all in Korean, too. (Language barriers were a real challenge at the art book fair; only some spoke English)


This booth showcased just two books. One dived into the history of South Korean department stores, tracing their evolution and how they reflect the consumer and leisure culture in the country. The other book was all about Daejeon Expo ’93, a prominent science and tech show in South Korea in ’93. It explored how the design scene changed and how science and tech were presented. Both were the brainchild of information designers who went by the name archetypes.


This booth’s storytelling using charts made it a rare find in the mix of booths at the event; it left a
 lasting impression.




The last booth truly stood out, showcasing Yoon Miwon’s captivating window collection, overshadowing other booths’ archival projects. Now, everyone’s probably wondering why collecting windows trumps gathering photos of birthday cakes, white objects, plastic bags from various Taiwanese cities, messages on t-shirts, or even trash from European travels. But here’s what won me over: she’s been at it for a whole decade!


What struck me most were the diverse techniques used to capture window images and transform them into printed pieces. The latest creation was impressive, featuring a brilliantly simple yet innovative binding method. But what got me was the unexpected answer when I asked, ‘Why windows?’ It turned out she used to loathe windows, feeling like she was always being watched. Yet, when she turned them into her project, that hate vanished. Those windows catalyzed her art, transforming something she despised into creativity.




While crafting this article, I hesitated about revisiting the event for additional details. I worried readers might grumble about me only discussing three booths when I’d seen hundreds. Fortunately enough, I happened to cross paths with Promphan Suksumek (Boomtype)— my type designer friend, who happened to be visiting Korea and planning to attend the event. So, I took the chance and invited her to co-write this with me.


I was genuinely curious to explore what caught the eye of someone deeply passionate about typography. So, let’s dive into the experiences and insights she encountered during the event.


Boom’s ReviewAs an independent type designer, my work mainly revolves around black and white, emphasizing drawing and collecting font details. It’s a highly systematic process. When I have free time, I gravitate towards activities that contrast my usual work. This aspect significantly influences the particular projects I choose to highlight. The other projects are noteworthy too, but the ones I selected resonate more with my personal preferences.


Let's jump right in!


What did I notice a lot at this event? Calendars. I am not entirely sure why, but maybe it’s because they’re a one-and-done and really practical. They also look appealing when combined with graphic design or illustrations, fitting right in the printing aspect of the event. Or maybe it’s just because having a calendar at home is still a thing. That’s my guess, though; there are no serious answers here!


Among the calendar booths, Mizosa’s display was notable. If I understood correctly, their calendar employs a unique dyed print technique, different from the typical dyeing or printing methods. It seems quite detailed, though I’m unsure about the process. Please visit Mizosa’s website to explore further if you're curious. And if you are fluent in Korean or might know more than I do, please share!


What struck me most about Mizosa was the playfulness in their use of colors in their prints. They seemed to prefer darker color combinations, probably due to the nature of dye printing, which might limit the available color pairs (though not confirmed). However, this limitation didn't hinder their creativity. What truly captivated me was the charm of printmaking—the ability to spot human-made imperfections within each print, those tiny details that give each piece its unique character.


Apart from the displayed work, the designers or artists had portfolios showcasing their past prints. It wasn’t just the technique and color that elicited a ‘wow’ from me, but also the quantity of prints within those folders. The sheer volume of work, combined with the evident passion, was palpable, even though, as foreigners, we couldn't fully understand the details. But standing there, it made me suddenly want a new calendar!




The Asian Food Design booth was up next. I was immediately drawn to the stir-fried basil and Thai fonts on the shirt. It got me thinking: why are stir-fried basil shirts so cool? I was low-key excited, expecting to meet Thai folks at the event. But then, I took a peek at the board behind the artist and spotted a bunch of languages. It was a mix, making it hard to guess the designer’s nationality. But one thing was unmistakable: the central theme of everything — food.


We chatted before figuring out that the artist was a Japanese individual who loved drawing and writing while enjoying a meal to capture memories. I started to talk about the stir-fried basil, asking if she liked the dish and if she had drawn the pictures and letters. The drawings, especially the letters, seemed meticulously crafted. I could imagine that it mustn’t be an easy task. It probably takes quite some time to get those letters just right.


When she realized I was Thai, she seemed a bit surprised. Then she told me she drew it herself and asked if she had made any mistakes. Besides observing and drawing, she relied on a language translator for assistance. I couldn’t help but admire her dedication to drawing the food and the letters.


Although it seemed like the book and merchandise were the artist’s personal food diary, for Asians, food holds significant cultural importance. It was very relatable and reminded me of the importance of this topic.



The typography at Saroks booth caught my eye right away. While it was evident she was selling books, what truly fascinated me was the dynamic layout and typography of her book, which was displayed behind her. It might seem straightforward when analyzed, but there was a delightful and fun quality to how everything was mixed.


This was the moment when I wished I could read Korean. It was at a booth where people constantly talked to the writers and designers. I didn’t understand anything but really wanted to, so I waited in line just to ask about this QQ book.


The book is packed with questions like ‘How many times did you order delivery food this year?’ - simple questions, honestly. But some genuinely made me ponder over my answers for quite a while.


Even with the constant crowd around the booth, I managed to get the designer’s message through a translation website. It seems during the COVID-19 phase, she gathered questions and conducted surveys that turned into a book. If anybody understands Korean or knows her concept better, please correct me if I’m wrong. The display fonts used in the book were specifically crafted for this project, and surprisingly, this isn't her first book — it’s the second volume!


For more info, swing by their website to dive deeper into their work. There’s a lot more to uncover than what I picked up!



Grafis Nusantara
is one
of those booths that just gets your instant attention. The graphics, colors, and infusion of culture in their work are simply stunning. They showcased vintage stickers and signs from Indonesian designers spanning the 1970s to the 1990s.


Volume 1 - Koleksi Label dan Sticker (Kamengski - Grafis Nusantara Book) I couldn’t resist this one, so I had to buy it! It’s a book filled with pictures of labels and stickers the artist has collected, neatly categorized. Each section, like tea, cartoons, or tobacco, has detailed information on the back, all compiled into this beautifully designed book. The packaging is stunningly designed and definitely worth collecting. The colors are bold and vivid, as evident from the layout and the shop. The stickers burst with lively colors, showcasing unique religious and cultural elements.



Before this, I have been following an Indonesian designer, Kendra Ahimsa, also known as Ardneks. I admire his use of colors; the peculiar blend of bright and pastel shades is eye-catching and uniquely captivating. Back then, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I liked it so much. But when I stumbled upon the Grafis Nusantara Collection, it was like seeing a vivid representation of Indonesian culture. It got me thinking about the graphic style in Indonesia. Will it move towards this vibrant direction, or will each artist keep their unique flair?

Yet, what I saw at this booth left me feeling incredibly content and fulfilled, especially with their typography. It’s the kind of booth that sparks your curiosity about graphics and inspires you. If you’re eager to experience the same feeling, swing by at Grafis Nusantara’s website. Trust me, when you think the book is already satisfying, the website tops it even more.



Let’s move on to a publishing house that should be familiar in Thailand, Sojanggak, with famous works such as the book Thailand Stationery, a collection of Thai stationery shops published by Mooontreee (I don’t know the author’s name in Korean, so I would like to give the designer credit via the link of her social media instead.) This book is a big hit; there’s even a pop-up store for it in Korea! Rumor has it that a Thai version is in the pipeline for next year, and I’m one of those eagerly waiting to get a hand on it.


Selected spread from Photobook “Tell me your wish”
Selected spread from Photobook “Tell me your wish”
Selected spread from Photobook “Tell me your wish”
Selected spread from Photobook “Tell me your wish”


I got to catch up with Mr. Sungil Noh for the second time. The first time we met, he was deep into a book about Cambodian characters out of pure interest. Now, his publishing house has books featuring images from diverse cultures even more than before, like ‘Tell Me Your Wish, Shrines of Southeast Asia.’ I grabbed a copy of the former, so here are more cool pictures for you to check out.


I got a chance to chat with him longer this time since it was a quieter moment with few people around. If you want to see more details, visit https://sojanggak.kr/



Munhwadabang seems to be the only English name I could find from the author of this book. From what I gathered, she’s a writer exploring the queries and experiences of home-based artists. Her book navigates life and portrays how to juggle work, family, and the daily grind.


I stumbled upon this Korean book that caught my eye, and despite the language barrier, I wanted to read it. I like how the content starts with a simple question, followed by a thorough interview and detailed photos to answer them. And just like every other time I like a book, the process was compiled into tangible results, allowing readers to know the author’s experiences.


In this booth, there was just one book for sale, but they used the highlight pages inside the book to create various designs for the book jackets, which gave a glimpse of the content. It’s smart and piqued my interest right away. Initially, I thought they were selling a series of books, but it turned out they’re just different book jackets, each revealing the depth of a single book.




At the booth across from the Charade Show is what I’d like to call the cat cartoon booth, owned by Jooyeonkoh. They had these adorable, colorful patches and other items. I loved how they showcased their work - you could see the stitching details and the vibrant colors up close. Amusing patterns!


I was impressed by the wide range of cat characters at the booth. They had everything from cute and sweet kitties to some very expressive and, let’s say, aggressive ones. Each detail, whether in the drawings or the products, had its unique charm.


Ordinarily, designing items like fridge magnets or postcards has limitations that could be fulfilled with playful touches. For instance, they cleverly changed the material to create two patterns on a single postcard (I wonder what material they used or the name of this technique; if you do, please let me know). This added an extra dimension and fun factor to the work. And the fridge magnets are so smoothly wrapped that the magnet on the back is invisible. I deeply appreciate those details.


I took a peek at the artist beyond the work displayed at the event and discovered that she has been working on many commercial projects. However, Charade Show seems to be the project she does out of passion because there’s a lot of emotion involved. It breaks away from the usual neatness; some pieces even have stickers with quick sketches. With the very detailed and wide-ranging styles of cats, this booth is genuinely my favorite this year.






DDBBMM
, this booth highlights Lee Yunho’s Tool and Type series, a topic we're eager to explore a bit further.


Tool and Type, or tools and letters, isn’t exactly a new playground. Almost all visual communication institutions have experimented and played with letters, often using unconventional tools in the process.


In the beginning, all letters originated from tools. Referencing from the West, long before printers, people penned with ink and quills - or broad nib pens which laid the groundwork for lettering on the printing press. This art has evolved continuously, and we’re always exploring tools to craft a myriad of typefaces. Today, the creativity broadens to coding programs like the p5.js.


This book showcases how designers get inspired by everyday tools to craft new patterns or distinctive letter designs. While the letters themselves might not be wildly unconventional, certain patterns pique your curiosity about the tools behind them.


If anyone is interested, check out DDBBMM's website; it seems like the designer is also one of the type lovers! 





At the neighboring booth, we discovered Jaehee Jeong, also known as Owy (pronounced o-wa-yeol), an artist behind ‘Women in Data.’ This groundbreaking book utilizes data gathered from digital algorithm systems, shedding light on cultural gender inequality. It delves into the subconscious perceptions of women, their roles, responsibilities, and the often unconscious judgments society makes.


By turning data into eye-catching visuals, the book aims to raise awareness and prompt society to pay closer attention to these issues.


To read more about Women in Data, please visit Design by Women. They share more detailed descriptions of this project.


Nearby, Hansoi Choi’s booth displays some really eye-catching graphic pieces. Interestingly, I found out later that we both attended The University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland for our master’s degrees, although in different programs. No wonder her work reflects Swiss precision, especially in the layout and attention to detail. Everything’s systematically arranged and incredibly neat.


Take ‘This is Not a Plastic Bag’ as an example. In this book, she documented plastic bag usage data between March 26, 2020, and June 8, 2020. The book details the items bought on those days and describes each bag’s appearance. There were some pages crafted as collages made entirely from plastic bags. What an intriguing form of diary-style data collection.


Apart from that, I also really like the colors and details of her work. They genuinely complement her style in the imagery and the color palettes she uses. To give you an example, it would be this poster printed on shiny silver paper; the longer you look at it, the more you discover the blend of cultures intricately woven into the designs. For more of her creations, check out hanxolchoi.kr




Here’s the last part of the event’s review. I was surprised that the event had Type Foundry booths (selling fonts). We found 3 type foundries, which looked more like a collaboration of collective type designers rather than a company.


But these booths were a huge hit! They were swarming with visitors, making it challenging to squeeze in for details. However, each booth does have a screen display where you can type to see the font samples, purchase information, and showcase their font libraries through Type Specimens or editorial projects.


Since it was very crowded, I only managed to get a few details from a brief chat due to the rush. But I also got to snap some pictures and included the website/links for each foundry below. 


K Town Type Foundry by Heejae Yang
Website: ktowntypeclass.me


Onul Font
Likely to be Collective Type Designers



Orange Slice

So, while wandering around the event, what struck me was how each booth fully committed to its unique topic of interest. The artists and designers dived deep into these topics, putting out so much quantity that you almost didn't need an explanation for what they were into.


If you ask me what I got from this event? I am impressed by their passion and their assertive energy through their work. Seeing these artists so into what they do and enjoy their work is contagious. More or less, it makes me want to be as inspired and as passionate in my work.

Thank you, Boom, for joining us. Before ending this article, I’d like to summarize.

Thinking back, I am trying to remember when I first started to include South Korean design alongside Western countries or Japan. No specific event or milestone caused it; instead, a gradual influence from various media sources shaped my perception.


And it just happened. South Korea became a country with unique artistic tastes and design styles. After spending over six hours at this event and another twenty at other exhibitions, I can confidently say that this impression has significantly strengthened, whether or not it is a part of the government’s strategic plan.


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