What does it mean to be "cute?" The literal definition is "attractive in a pretty or endearing way." But, in reality, it a sense of aesthetic charm or an act of powerlessness? Graphic designers Jaejin Ee and Sangah Shin are interpreting, exploring, and experimenting with the ironic principles of cuteness through their font, Meta Mascot.
This font takes inspiration from shaping and reshaping its letterform as it looks as if it's a balancing act of maintaining both a liquid and solid-state. This font, by definition, is cute, and that's the irony of it all: how can something be cute while exploring what it means to be cute while understanding that cuteness in itself is ironic. This typeface is more than just a font; it's an exploration of the greater understandings of our contemporary society.
Sangah Shin is a graphic designer based in Seoul after graduating from Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem, the Netherlands in 2019. Jaejin Ee is a graphic designer as well based in Seoul and NYC after graduating from CalArts in CA in 2017. Who recently worked at 2×4, a design agency in NYC, for the last 3.5 years.
Together, they are interested in the irony of cuteness as an aesthetic of powerlessness, which subverts a relationship between the power and the powerless, therefore, creates an ambivalence. In contemporary society, visual culture of cuteness has close ties to commercialism. Ironic grammar of cuteness is often exploited to make a profit in a market. As a graphic designer, we are not only closely researching this relation of cuteness to a commodity market, but also experimenting on the ironic principles of cuteness as an agent of power to apply to a societal, political and ecological context from a minority point of view.
To interpret this perspective through a more typographic lens in a linguistic sense, we created this on-going project called Meta Mascot, an amorphous typeface between letter and form inspired by the tremendous popularity of mascot culture in East Asia to explore ambivalent feelings of cuteness—taking the opportunity of participating in Typojanchi 2019: the 6th international typography biennale in Seoul. Centering around this conceptual typeface, this project is composed of visual research, publishing a book and object installations. Later in early 2020, Sangah participated in Fruitful School, a website workshop by Laurel Schwulst and John Provencher to expand the typeface into Invasion of Cuteness into Language, a web-based application.
Currently, we both are developing this typeface into a variable font. By doing this, we expect to emphasize on the formless nature of this typeface by crossing a boundary between shaping and unshaping its letterform as though slime mold, eukaryotic organisms in nature, moving constantly in a boundary between liquid and solid. We are planning on applying this developing typeface into a various context to make a more societal, political gesture where cuteness can invade with its fluidity.
Art Direction & Production : Sangah Shin and Jaejin Ee