YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES
ISN’T IT THE GREATEST IN THE WORLD? PART 1: WANT TO DO GOOD? KNOW HOW TO SHOOT A SEMI-AUTOMATIC HANDGUN? PART 2: BEING AND NOTHINGNESS AND BEING MIDDLE CLASS
(on view at UMMA until through December 30, 2012)
Interview with the Artists by Eleni Zaras
Even casually walking past UMMA, one can’t help but notice the unusual installation of TV monitors and projections displaying glowing American flags and flashing fragments of text through the windowed walls of the Stenn Gallery.
This is the work of Seoul-based artists, YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES. Young-Hae Chang, from South Korea, and Marc Voge, from the United States, are the artist duo behind these innovative videos. Their main site for display is on the web at yhchang.com, although they do occasionally install their art in museums (including the Tate, London, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, and the New Museum, New York, in addition to UMMA). In general, their videos consist of text, shooting quickly across the screen in capitalized Monaco font, and with music in the background. While not all videos have color, UMMA’s commissioned work includes the American flag in bright red and blue displayed behind the text.
As the titles of their videos for UMMA suggest, YHCHI tend to choose politically charged or philosophical subjects for their videos. Part 1 of the video addresses the viewer in letter format, asking him or her to please help the narrator with her cause of fighting poverty and illness in Africa. Part 2 raises more philosophical questions about existence and the middle class. However, in these videos as well as in a lot of their work, there is at the very least a tinge of cynicism.
I hope the following interview provides more insight into the exhibition and inspires everyone to check out this unique, thought-provoking show!
Eleni Zaras: One part of the artwork displayed in your exhibition at UMMA begs the viewer to sacrifice comfort to go to Africa to help those in need, but seems to bear the over-the-top attitude of an untrustworthy chain-mail letter. The other part is more philosophically focused, but discusses the role of the “middle class” with a rather cynical tone. How did you come up with these ideas for the University of Michigan commission?
YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES: Maybe we were interested in appealing to what may be our prejudice that college students are both idealistic and, in large part, middle class; both attuned to Internet scams and philosophical musings; and both used to the complexities of our times yet wondering what personal meaning can be found in realizing you’re an ordinary person in a big world.
EZ: Was the subject matter chosen by you alone or did the curator at UMMA play a role in the process?
YHCHI: We alone take responsibility for the subject matter. Natsu Oyobe, our very competent curator, was our enabler.
EZ: Viewing your art on a computer is quite a different experience than in the gallery; in the UMMA installation, there are six TV screens and two projections filling the two big white walls of the Stenn Gallery. How did you go about deciding to display this work of art in this format? Were their constraints?
YHCHI: We feel that if we’re going to show our work in real space, as in the UMMA installation, we should, within the constraints of our style, do something as different as possible from the works on our Web site. And yes, there were other constraints — as there always are when making art. The biggest obstacle to projecting the work was the ambient light. Projectors are essentially for dark rooms, and the Stenn Gallery has window walls along two sides. We’re pleased that UMMA is playing the work until late in the evening, so when darkness falls, students passing in front of the museum will see what we consider some pretty spectacular wall projections.
EZ: In the end of your video WHAT IS AN INTELLECTUAL, which was presented at Yale University, you write, “Young-Hae Change Heavy Industries is yhchang.com”. Do you create artwork specifically for display online, or are all pieces made as installation works in galleries which are then added to your website? If they are made as separate pieces, does the different format change the creation process for you?
YHCHI: Thanks for noticing that sentence, by which we mean that we are essentially our Web site. It’s also a reference to our beginnings as Internet artists. So yes, we used to make art just for yhchang.com, for virtual space. Now we make art for real art spaces, then upload it to our site. Thus, our creative process has essentially changed. Before, we made art for ourselves and our Web site. Now, we make it for others and their art institutions.
EZ: Is there one exhibit you’ve done in the past that worked particularly well? If so, which one and why?
YHCHI: That would be in a biennial whose name we won’t bother to mention for reasons that will become apparent as you read on. A few days before we were to go install the work, the biennial coordinator informed us that — small detail — the equipment we’d requested wasn’t available. But, good news, there was other equipment, and we were free to make it work. We politely declined (really, we were polite — there are more important things in life to get worked up about), telling him you win a few and lose a few. Shortly after the opening, we received several e-mails from visiting art professionals telling us how much they’d enjoyed our work. We surmise that they went away from the opening with a biennial catalog, noticed a page on our work, told themselves that they’d missed seeing it in the show, and, embarrassed, decided to pretend otherwise. So why do we think that this particular non-work worked well? Because we’ve always liked the virtual side of what we do, and here was a “work” that took the concept to the next level. We realized at that moment that we really do live in a conceptual art world.
EZ: Do you feel that different presentations of your work are essentially separate artworks because of the distinctive experiences that viewers may have with the video?
YHCHI: Yes — we think you’ve given the correct response to your question.
EZ: A lot of your work has famous jazz compositions playing in the background, but it’s been noted in the curator, Natsu Oyobe’s, essay that in recent works you’ve been creating your own music. Which is the case for the UMMA commission? How and why did you choose the soundtrack you did?
YHCHI: We live in a period — the digital age — when we’re encouraged to do a lot of creative things — make art, music, movies and video, write creatively, etc. — that in the past we let others do. One day about 10 years ago we decided to make our own music. As with all creative endeavors, you do what you’re able and what your taste tells you to do. You also do it because you hope it will seem cool and timeless. That would be jazz — or at least what we hope passes for jazz.
EZ: It seems that the format of your art has remained relatively constant throughout your career. Where do you see your art going in the future?
YHCHI: Uh, nowhere. And yet we hope that others will see it going somewhere in a big way.
EZ: The art book you made for this exhibition, using the words of Natsu Oyobe’s, essay is an artwork in and of itself. In Oyobe’s essay, she notes that this is only the second exhibition book you have created. Do you envision exploring the possibilities of print format more in the future?
YHCHI: Sure, why not? Not to mention that it might be a good artistic idea — like using camera film — to revert to printed matter as the world moves more and more toward digital formats.
Also, if you’d like to investigate their work further, there is plenty on the web at yhchang.com to satisfy a need for intellectual stimulation (or just a quick fix of humor).