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Yoojin Chung’s Feng Shui Smart Products Offer a Satirical Take on Commodification

 MATERIALS & PRODUCTS 

The South Korean designer’s new product series Capturing Qi explores what happens

when highly complex and somewhat abstract ancient concepts from the East find their

way to the West.


By Rashmi Sharda

27 Feb 2024



Capturing Qi transforms three popular feng shui objects into smart home devices | Image by Marie Kang; Courtesy of Yoojin Chung


Feng shui, along with its Japanese and Indian counterparts zen and vastu shastra, are practices that have today become part of a sort of global cultural zeitgeist — especially in the world of architecture and interior design. But what happens when highly complex and somewhat abstract ancient concepts from the East find their way to the West? Capturing Qi, a new product series by designer Yoojin Chung, looks at this question, offering a scathing commentary on the commercialization of feng shui


“I was born in South Korea and raised in the UK,” says Chung, who studied architecture at the Bartlett, University College London, and recently received an MA from the Design Academy Eindhoven, the Netherlands. “With my dual perspective of both cultures, Capturing Qi delves into how the age of global modernisation has reshaped traditional practices.”



Chung studied architecture at the Bartlett, UCL, and received an MA from the Design Academy Eindhoven, the Netherlands | Image courtesy of Yoojin Chung


The series, which served as Chung’s graduation project, transforms three popular feng shui objects — the crystal ball, the wind chime and the water fountain — into smart home devices made out of transparent, vacuum-formed acrylic and metal. While the wind chime is a hanging device, the other two are mounted on castors and are, hence, mobile. 


Feng shui, which literally translates to “wind-water”, is the ancient Chinese art of situating and orienting cities, buildings, spaces, and objects so they are in harmony with the flow of qi (pronounced and also sometimes spelled as ch’i), a vital life force (think: the Force in Star Wars) that inhabits everything. Positive qi can be achieved by balancing the complementary energies of yin-yang by adding, removing, or moving one or more of the five fundamental elements: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. This, in turn, brings good health, improves interpersonal relationships, and increases wealth and prosperity, the ancient Chinese people believed.



The smart products offer a satirical take on the commodification of feng shui | Image by Marie Kang; Courtesy of Yoojin Chung


Chung’s satire is multi-layered. First, it explores how feng shui has been reduced today to “the idea of a quick fix.” Mass-produced products readily available in the market claim to improve the flow of qi in one’s home or office, highlighting how consumption is replacing the core essence of the practice. "People just buy these objects, place them in their homes and forget about them," she says. 



Chung’s reimagination of the feng shui wind chime | Image by Marie Kang; Courtesy of Yoojin Chung


Second, it underscores the limitations of trying to understand Eastern practices through a Western, scientific lens. The products are unmistakably inspired by lab equipment, especially glass tubes and vacuum chambers employed by pioneer scientists in the 17th and 18th centuries looking to prove the existence of gasses. Inside, each product has a moving element — the crystal spins on its axis, the chimes seem to sway with the wind, and water flows in the reimagined fountain device — in an apparent physical manifestation of the obviously intangible and invisible qi



Chung’s reimagination of the feng shui crystal ball | Image by Marie Kang; Courtesy of Yoojin Chung


Third, it reflects the all-consuming desire for control that prevails in the world today — a desire for “self-optimisation and self-improvement.” This comes through in how motion in the products, which are fitted with Arduino circuit boards, can be fully controlled via Bluetooth through a smartphone app. “With the press of a button, capture and diffuse all the qi to your heart’s content,” reads a wry description of the series on Chung’s website. 



Chung’s reimagination of the feng shui water fountain | Image by Marie Kang; Courtesy of Yoojin Chung


In spite of how she sees feng shui being increasingly commodified, Chung still believes the practice is relevant as a modern solution in a fast-paced world. “By understanding the basic principles of feng shui, qi, and the art of creating harmony and balance, the practice itself can become a ritual for understanding our desire for success and regaining control of our lives,” she says. “Through this project...the intention is to recontextualise post-modern feng shui, bringing awareness of one’s true desires in our contemporary achievement society.”



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