2015 Inception Award | Jasmine Cho


This research project explores the use of media and performance of cosmetic surgery in altering human identity.

Within the context of South Korea’s normalised culture of cosmetic surgery, and its booming cosmetic tourism industry, this project aims to expose the pain, intrusions and restructuring of the bodies ─ parts that are usually glossed over in South Korean surgery culture ─ and reveal the reality of undergoing a beauty transformation.

Research into South Korea’s cultural history and popular culture was undertaken, where topics of physiognomy, neo-confucianism, capitalism, contemporary media, feminism, and cosmetic tourism was explored in relation to South Korea’s cosmetic surgery culture.

In South Korea, beauty and physical appearance is highly regarded. Cosmetic surgery has become a popular tool for becoming ‘beautiful’, where 1 in 5 South Korean women have had undergone some form of cosmetic surgery.

Self-improvement of one’s physical appearance is considered “social etiquette” in South Korea, where conforming to the culture’s standard of beauty equates to being ‘normal’.

The design proposal is a hybrid hotel + cosmetic surgery clinic within an existing hotel, Highland Hotel in Gangnam, a wealthy district in Seoul and home to over 500 cosmetic surgeries.

The nal design subverts reality makeover show narratives of Before/After transformation by displaying the private affair of a surgery procedures in exhibition spaces inside the hotel + clinic hybrid. The four oors of the hotel feature surgery exhibition rooms and mix programs of hospital/ surgery clinic with the conventional hotel.

On the outside, recordings of surgeries are projected on the building’s billboard front facade, contrasting the oversaturation of beauty advertisements in Gangnam.

Patients are tourists enticed by South Korea’s reputation, and like other reality makeover shows, receive free surgeries in exchange for their face and footage for the broadcast and advertisements. During their stay/recovery, they witness the hours of procedures that go into a ‘transformation’, and the pain and recovery afterward.

The casual display of graphic surgery operations as performances within the building challenges the existing ideas of cosmetic surgery advertised in South Korea as ‘magical’, and instant, pain-free beauty.

The broadcast of the surgeries re ects both Western and Eastern society’s surveillance of women in the maintenance of their physical appearance, and their adherence to the image they are fed to want to resemble.

It also with the recording and viewing of the surgery, collapses the media space with the surgery space, and overlaps the roles of the viewers and performers with patients and surgeons.

Through an exposure of the pain and recovery of cosmetic surgery intertwined in a commercial event, this project seeks to create a discourse about consumer manipulation and the issue of traditional values as basis for beauty standards, and lets the audience decide whether or not they want to take part in cosmetic surgery and ‘makeover culture’.