A Korean Notebook

A photo book by Diana Artus
All texts were found on the cover pages of Korean notepads and exercise books

– It is not hard to learn more. What is hard is to unlearn when you discover yourself wrong.


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The book is designed as a spiral-bound notepad, containing two narrative layers, a visual and a textual one. They blend to a photographic journey through Seoul’s business and shopping districts as well as through contemporary ethics of achievement and success.

I took all photographs in April and May 2015 in Seoul while being at an artist residency. Apart from strolling through the city’s streets I was also very interested in looking at Korean products in shops and malls. In doing so I soon came across some notebooks and memo pads with strange sentences on top of their cover pages: philosophical thoughts, obviously influenced by Confucianism, talking about “studying hard”, “success” and “suffering”, and written in a sometimes incorrect and funny English. Oscillating between stimulation and reassurance, these veritable “truisms” hint at the pressure to perform and to achieve that may be put upon its potential readers “in private life and official time”, as one sentence has it. Philosopher Byung-Chul Han describes his homeland – which is known for being a tiger economy, a turbo-capitalist and highly technophilic country – as an example of a “fatigue society” in terminal stage. It is a characteristic of the fatigue society that its members would never ever admit being tired or nearly burnt-out. When asked “How are you?” the performance-oriented subject answers “Very busy!”.

Quickly I realized that being busy all the time was something that also occurred to me while I was in Seoul. As though it were the genius loci of this city, a general atmosphere you can’t escape. “There is tiresome, but attractive” – one of the cover slogans – perfectly captures the permanent conflict between excitement and exhaustion which I experienced in Seoul. So, when I discovered the notebook wisdoms I saw almost immediately a connection with the photographs of the city, which I was taking at the same time. There was nothing more obvious than to create a compilation from all that collected material. It’s not only a photo book, but – as the name suggests – can also serve as a notebook again. You may fill in the blanks with your own notes, motivated by some cheering slogans and inspired by Korean streetlife. Happy of being busy… or rather not?


Artist book, 26 x 19 cm, 109 pages with 61 photographs, Digital offset printing on Soporset Premium Offset 80g paper, Spiral binding
Self-published in winter 2015