Applying technology to what you wear is a smart way to articulate your uniqueness. A conversation with Soomie Park

I am happy to share one more interview made for the Vague terrain Magazine (R.I.P.) in 2011. The subject here is the work of Soomie Park. Soomie is a Korean designer that has been involved in many wearables projects. By the time of our conversation, she had just won a prize for her led eyelashes, one of the most sensible projects in wearable tech (in my opinion of course).

Last year (2017) I wrote an article after a very similar device flood my social media timeline. The idea of that text was to show how inspirational art can be and how visionary Soomie Park is.

I republish the conversation I had with her in the past.

Soomie Park got my attention with the project LED Eyelashes with which She won a prize in Ars Electronica. Follow bellow a conversation we had via e-mail.

Ricardo O’Nascimento: What is your educational background?

Soomi Park: I majored in visual communication design in college: specifically multimedia, such as graphic, animation and motion pictures. I studied digital media design in graduate school, International Design school for Advanced Studies (IDAS).

RO’N: How did you start to work with wearables?

SP: I became fascinated by how technology can be used for artistic purposes when I took the “Interaction Design” class at IDAS, my graduate school. Adding to that excitement was learning that I could create something fashionable using technology as well because the first project for the class was to make something wearable as well as technological. I discovered that my interest in fashion could become my artistic inspiration and has positively guided my work since. Wearable media became a new area of focus for me from the beginning of my study at IDAS.

RO’N: What is your inspiration for the LED eyelash project?

SP: For the LED eyelash specifically, I was inspired by cosmetic commercials, which came through the mail. I don’t know if this applies to other countries, but here in South Korea, cosmetic companies often promote their new products by keeping a mailing list of clients who have bought their products. One day I was flipping through my emails and found a promotional postcard that had a picture of an eye with long eyelashes. This company described how their new product could make the eyes look bigger. I was looking for ideas for the first project of the Interactive Design class at the time, and I thought to myself, “Don’t people wear eyelashes?” It came to me at that moment: eyelashes are wearable too so that I can make something about eyelashes using technology.

Once I started to research more with a focus on the eyes, it was like a domino. Having bigger eyes was such an issue in our society. Many people go through plastic surgery to make their eyes look bigger. They wear fake eyelashes, and they put on make-up. I was thrilled about my project to be focused on the eyes because, first, it was closely related to everyday aesthetics — what is being considered as beautiful by social standards — and what people do to look good. You go as far as surgically cutting and sewing your face to look pretty; alternatively, you wear cosmetics. I thought, “Hey, why not wearing art on your face? Isn’t art for beauty, after all?” Second, I could address social issues using my project, which was great, since dealing with social matters via artistic processes intrinsically meets my drive to communicate with others.

RO’N: I lived in Japan for a while, and I figure out this obsession with big eyes. This behavior is also very noticeable from the “mangas” and “animes” where the characters have huge eyes. Maybe that is an Asian issue. What do you think?

SP: I also read many articles about plastic surgery to open the eyes a bit. Even in women magazines there are several makeup techniques to enlarge the eyes. All of this I found in Japan.

RO’N: Also, the LED eyelashes are very “kawaii” (cute). I totally can imagine the cosplay wearing your work in Shibuya. How was the reaction of the Japanese audience to your work?

SP: Thanks for your comment, the LED eyelash being “Kawaii.” Arigato. This project has theoretical, practical and social bases not on the Japanese society, but on the Korean culture. Many people asked me about how the LED eyelashes apply to or address Korean’s obsession with plastic surgery, which was my artistic intention as well.

I have never been to Shibuya, but I can understand why people may think that I might be Japanese, or the LED eyelash might be about the Japanese society. In fact, some people asked me if I was Japanese at Youtube, maybe because I used background music from a well-known Japanese animation’s original soundtrack, or because the Japanese culture is more known to the world. Or for other reasons that I may not know.

I have never exhibited my work in Japan or interacted with the Japanese society about my work. So, I am not aware of how the Japanese audience may respond to my artwork. I would be very excited if the LED eyelash could be worn by people who are into Cosplay and seen in Shibuya streets. It will be fascinating to see how the Japanese society may perceive my work and the message the LED eyelash delivers.

Answering your question if wanting big eyes could be an “Asian thing,” although I can understand why you noticed the obvious connection of my work to the Japanese culture, I think the obsession with bigger eyes is more of a universal desire. I can’t say how much of plastic surgeries worldwide is to address people’s eyes, but I can say that people, especially women, spend a lot of their energy, time and money to make their eyes look prettier — that is, bigger. Just like Japanese Anime characters have exaggerated eyes, so do American Barbies and Disney princesses. Personally, I receive many inquiries about commercializing the LED eyelash from people in Europe and the United States, but no one from Asia yet. Also, the LED eyelash won many awards from Europe, and to tell you a personal story, I got similar, positive responses from both my European and Korean friends.

By universal, I also mean it transcends time. Look at the ancient Egyptian wall paintings, drawn thousands of years ago, which show that people at that time wore thick, harsh make-ups to emphasize their eyes. I also have read about the Roman beauty standards also included long eyelashes and big eyes.

RO’N: Why do you think is important to make intelligent clothes and how do you predict the future of wearable technology?

SP: People express themselves through fashion: what and how you wear clothes communicates your identity as a social class, a gender, a profession and so forth. Applying technology to what you wear is a smart way to articulate your uniqueness. Everyone wears clothes, but with wearable technology, you can communicate your emotions more efficiently.

I teach a class on Wearable Technology for college students. In the course, I don’t show them how to use high — complicated and expensive — technology to create fashion. What I preach is that the importance of assessing what people need emotionally, and finding a way to utilize technology to meet the needs of people more efficiently. Technology is a complementary tool for us to complete the purpose of intelligent clothes.

I think that the future of wearable technology depends not primarily on how advanced technology can be, or how well high tech can be used on clothes. Instead, wearable technology will develop in a way that can complement the function of fashion (self-expression): precisely in a way that can address the emotional needs of people (communication)

RO’N: Do you intend to commercialise your work?

SP: I do intend to make a limited number of the LED eyelash for a commercial purpose. I do not have any plan to manufacture this item in a large quantity.

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Ricardo O' Nascimento

Ricardo O' Nascimento

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