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2012 New Visual Artist: Sang Mun

[Editor’s Note: For the last 14 years, Print has featured an annual issue called the New Visual Artists, which introduces and profiles 20 of the most promising rising talents from around the world in the fields of graphic design, advertising, illustration, digital media, photography, and animation—all under the age of 30. This invitation-only competition is drawn from nominations by art directors, designers, critics, and industry professionals. Starting today (and every Thursday and Friday for the next couple of months), we’ll unveil this year’s winners and their stellar work. You can click here to see a list of the 2012 winners or click here to purchase a PDF of the winning entries.]

By Justin Sullivan

Damien Ortega poster, color inkjet print, 2011

To be clear, Sang Mun is not a graphic designer. Speaking from his home in Providence, where he’s an undergraduate at the Rhode Island School of Design, he says, “I feel like a problem solver. I try not to restrict myself to the term ‘graphic design.’”

Age: 25 “More than a graphic designer” From: Seoul, South Korea Lives in: Providence, Rhode Island Website: sang-mun.com/

Mun is driven by an interest in language—its limitations, its fluidity, and how it shapes design. Not coincidentally, he speaks a few of them. Born in South Korea, he grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, before moving back to Seoul. After studying in Chicago in 2006, he returned to South Korea to serve his two-year mandatory term in the Korean Army. There, working with U.S. troops under the NSA, he learned yet another language: code. “It was intense,” he says. “I cannot really talk about the details of what I did there.”

Calling three countries home changed Mun. “There was this triple consciousness in what I did and what I wanted to do.” His work is characterized both by alienation and an ability to adapt. A piece called “Cultural Camouflage” layers torn bits of national imagery into digital banners. In another, he created a set of passports that open to reveal treatises on national identity.

"On View," black-and-white laser print with stickers, 2011

Autobiography creeps into his work in other ways. Lancet Wounded, a typeface with bladelike details, was inspired by botched childhood surgeries to mend a broken arm. Yet Mun’s work is never self-indulgent. Phil Lubliner, for whom Mun interned in 2010 at Fogelson-Lubliner (since folded into Other Means), credits this to confidence. “He’s able to take something that’s a little bit raw and unusual and leave it really simple,” Lubliner says. “It takes a really confident designer to be able to do that.”

Though he has one semester left in school, Mun speaks like a veteran, quoting Rem Koolhaas to describe his approach: “Our work is a battle against architecture with the tools of architecture.” Mun says, “I don’t want to restrict graphic design to creating commodities. I want to expand what it could be or what the word could mean.”

Spring film festival, color inkjet print, 2011

Tri-X Open Type font, produced during an internship at Fogelson-Lubiner, 2011

"Replica," color inkjet print, 2011

Lancet Wounded, OpenType font, 2011

See the other 2012 NVA winners:

  • Sang Mun

  • Erin Schell

  • Berton Hasebe

  • Drea Zlanabitnig

  • Casper Heijkenskjöld

  • Kelsey Dake

  • Jerome Corgier

  • Tracy Ma

  • Olimpia Zagnoli

  • Ryan Thacker

  • John Passafiume

  • Lisa Hedge

  • Jungyeon Roh

  • Dafi Kühne

  • Jing Wei

  • Caleb Bennett

  • Naz Sahin

  • Serifcan Ozcan

  • Brendan Griffiths

  • George Michael Brower

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