Going Fluid

Common Accounts

Originally published in Superhumanity (2018) and e-flux


This kind of virtual and material reflexivity via integrated prosthetic enhancement is perhaps nowhere more apparent today than in the world’s most active plastic surgery district, in Gangnam, Seoul. The modern Korean plastic surgery industry originated in the wounded bodies of the Korean War. In the 1950s, American reconstructive surgeon Doctor Ralph Millard began a program of physiognomic reconstructions on survivors of the conflict, which led to the development of new procedures not rooted in an ethos of repair, but of “enhancement.” His invention of blepharoplasty, or double-eyelid surgery, rapidly gained notoriety and is to this day among the most popular surgeries practiced in Gangnam. Gangnam comprises a sophisticated infrastructure—medical, bureaucratic, urban, and digital—that softens its subjects. It promotes a cellular, nutritional, and identity fluidity, both physical and legal. The architectural, infrastructural, and urban technologies of the district—here understood as the attendant technologies that allow participation in and shape the urbanism throughout the process of surgery (before, during, and in post-op recovery)— design the human as a parallel operation to those involving the surgeon’s scalpel. New noses, eyelids, and jawlines demand a protocol across scales; tubing, smoothies, neck pillows, automated beds, cushioned vans, hotel rooms, convenience stores, beauty salons, and shopping centers are the technological and urban counterparts to the bloggers, nurses, beauticians, administrators, and customs agents also required along the way.

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