Industrial relations: YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES

 YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES, installation view of  SYDNY 5000  (2010), commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre for  Edge of Elsewhere . Courtesy the artists. Photo: Ian Hobbs.

YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES, installation view of SYDNY 5000 (2010), commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre for Edge of Elsewhere. Courtesy the artists. Photo: Ian Hobbs.

YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES (YHCHI) is a two-artist collective based in Seoul, South Korea, comprising Young-Hae Chang and Marc Voge. Using Flash animation techniques, they create fast-moving, text-based artworks that are synchronised with original scores. At once humorous, poetic, paranoid, satirical and strangely seductive, their work directly engages with viewers, challenging us to keep up with its driving tempo, and can be seen and heard at yhchang.com, as well as in the form of large-scale installations in museums, arts centres and other contexts around the world. This interview was conducted via email between YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES in Seoul and Pedro de Almeida in Campbelltown, Sydney, in December 2009, as YHCHI worked on the production of a new work titled SYDNY 5000, commissioned for Edge of Elsewhere, which will be the first presentation of their work in Sydney.

PdA: Why ‘HEAVY INDUSTRIES’?

YHCHI: That’s Marc’s stage name. It serves, we hope, several purposes. One, it presumes to elevate us to the heights of big business in a country, South Korea, that worships its multinationals. Two, it presumes to give us, mere net artists, a weightier presence in the art world. And three, it masks our masculine side, in a country that is quick to judge someone by gender.

PdA: What were the motivations that led you to establish YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES in 1998? What were your expectations for your work at that time?

YHCHI: We wanted to work together, to join into one great venture two mediocre ones. One of our hopes was that in going online and creating net art, we would, thanks to the worldwide nature of the web, immediately become international artists and overcome our move to Seoul, South Korea, which, in 1998, was an art-world backwater. We also wanted to get as much bang as we could for our buck, and net art, with its simple, small set up, fit the bill nicely.

PdA: So how has Seoul changed since 1998 in terms of opportunities for artists? And from your perspective, is this inescapably tied to the development of web technology in the past decade?

YHCHI: In one short decade the city has become bloated with new art spaces and turned into a welcoming destination for the international art world. Recently a Melbourne-based artist surprised us by saying that he’d chosen to be in a residency here because he’d have a better chance than in Australia of meeting international curators. To him, Korean artists have it pretty good these days. Whether Seoul has carved out a place on the art- world scene thanks in part to its development of web technology or digital technology in general remains to be seen, as far as we’re concerned. Korean artists seem unmoved by the creative opportunities of internet technology. It’s easier to see innovative uses of the web in Seoul by taking the subway and observing how commuters use their mobile phones and media players to stave off boredom. No, the driving force in the thriving Korean art world is government and big business.

PdA: Big business like Samsung? Is this the kind of driving force you poke fun at in your work SAMSUNG—which reads as a kind of erotic confession by a frustrated ahjuma (a married, conventional Korean woman of a certain age)—or the even more sexually provocative work SAMSUNG MEANS TO COME?

YHCHI: Yes. It is all in good fun, isn’t it? Hello, Samsung?

PdA: In your work you give an impression of having used the otherwise mind-numbing time it takes to upload, as you put it, a ‘FAT, JUICY FILE OF WEB ART’, as an opportunity to ruminate on the nature of the web as an artistic medium, whilst at the same time entertaining thoughts involving North Korean spies (among other things) which in turn becomes the ARTIST’S STATEMENT. This work strikes me as a beautiful conflation of the banal and fantastic realities of working in a digital medium. Is that what you mean when in the same work you ask yourselves the rhetorical question ‘IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN ARTIST’S WEB SITE AND “TERRY’S TERMITE PAGE”’?

YHCHI: We suppose that at the time—ARTIST’S STATEMENT was our first piece—we were asking ourselves, ‘In the age of conceptual art is art different from anything else?’ Now, a decade later, a better question might be,‘Is there a difference between art and what people upload to YouTube?’ We may also have been asking ourselves back then, ‘Does internet technology give us a decisively new communications tool? Does it put adventure and danger at our fingertips? Or does it just jam the ether with more noise?’

PdA: In a recent political opinion piece in Melbourne’s daily broadsheet The Age, the former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who launched the APEC concept in Seoul in 1989, is quoted as paying tribute to the efforts of the Republic of Korea in helping set up APEC and an Asia-Pacific community, ‘in response to the global economic tensions resulting from the end of the Cold War.' [1] Needless to say, these tensions are more than just economic. This makes me think of all the references in your work—humorous and grave, political and sexual—to the ‘Dear Leader’ and your ‘neighbours’ in the North. From your perspective in Seoul, how would you describe this very real tension that seems so evident in your work?

YHCHI: APEC? Hold on, Googling...OK, got the wiki. Right, well, it’s funny, the tension you refer to simply doesn’t exist in South Korea. You see, ever since Kim Dae-Jung’s ‘Sunshine Policy’ [2] for many South Koreans, especially the younger generations who have brought about democracy, North Koreans are like best buddies living in an alternative paradise to capitalism, and the Dear Leader [3] is a reality-show star. Strange, but true. CUNNILINGUS IN NORTH KOREA, OPERATION NUKOREA and MISS DMZ, among other works touching on North- South relations, are our best efforts at offering up a corrective to South Koreans’ callowness.

PdA: Formally, your work is text and sound. Do you see it as connected to any histories of typography, text-based art or literary traditions—or is it something else?

YHCHI: Yes, we see that our text works are connected to all of that. We’re especially pleased that people outside the art world want to make connections to our work. Maybe our work used to be something else. Then, on further analysis, life, and in particular art, tends to figure out ways to absorb it. The new becomes the well worn. In place of this something else you hope there is a rich, provocative, enduring style.

PdA: In terms of literary stylistic influences, then, as far as the tone and content of much of your work is concerned, I see parallels between YHCHI and poets like Richard Brautigan, Charles Bukowski and Raymond Carver, whose poems relish brevity, banality, intensity and black humour. And if one takes this view, it’s rather ironic that these poets are often labelled as misogynists—the polar opposite ofYHCHI’s often powerful feminine voice in works like IT’S A WOMAN’S WORLD (BUT IT WOULDN’T BE NOTHING WITHOUT A MAN OR A BOY). Have these poets influenced your writing?

YHCHI: Not to mention that all those guys were also getting drunk on the West Coast. As for us, well, we don’t drink and are stuck in Seoul, so we take it as a compliment that you could picture us at their bar table. The thing is, it’s hard these days to make poetry without being somewhat brief, banal, intense, and darkly funny—don’t you think? People have, we hear, shorter and shorter attention spans, need to be shocked out of their jadedness, and like to LOL. Which begs the question, ‘Why is it so hard to write sincere poetry today?’

PdA: Can you describe how you come up with the music for each work? For instance, do you have specific criteria for matching music with content?

YHCHI: No.We go with our gut feeling that any sound can complement any situation and make it more artistically complex and engaging.

PdA: Have you ever witnessed people dancing to your work, or reacting in some unexpected ways to the provocative content?

YHCHI: Good question. We just participated in Toronto’s Nuit Blanche (3-4 October 2009), where we had the pleasure of watching some children dance to the music of GALACTIC TIDES BY NIGHT. Maybe we should know better, but we’re always taken aback by the violence of some of the language in emails that perfect strangers send us in reaction to some of our works.

PdA: You’re currently creating a new work titled SYDNY 5000 which has been commissioned for Edge of Elsewhere and will be presented at Campbelltown Arts Centre in January 2010. Can you describe some of the ideas behind this work in progress?

YHCHI: With pleasure. Time travel—you know, the edge of elsewhere. Dreams—elsewhere again—as the accomplishment of desires, to paraphrase Freud, especially as an escape, in this case from a tortured life, from within and without.

PdA: Lastly, where to from here for the web? Where to from here for YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES? ‘Are the potential futures of the two intertwined?’

YHCHI: From its outset we saw the web as the future of TV and wanted to exploit this new screen. At the time, some in the net art world questioned our technique—What, no interactivity? Now, with the triumph of YouTube, we feel vindicated. Yet our earlier question remains: ‘Is there a difference between art and the stuff people upload to YouTube?’

Notes
[1] Tim Harcourt, 'Seoul mates in the great recovery', The Age, 13 November 2009.
[2] YHCHI provide the URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunshine_Policy
[3] YHCHI provides the URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-il

Published in Edge of Elsewhere (exhibition catalogue), Thomas J. Berghuis, Lisa Havilah and Aaron Seeto (eds.), Campbelltown Arts Centre and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney, 2010, pp. 108-115.

Edge of Elsewhere (2010-2012) was produced by Campbelltown Arts Centre in partnership with 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art for Sydney Festival and supported by the Australia Council for the Arts Visual Arts Board and Community Partnerships and the NSW Government through Arts NSW.

© Pedro de Almeida 2009.