Published on November 6th, 2012 | by Angela Son0
Tell it like it is: the art of Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries
A few years ago, the Seoul-based web art collaborative, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries (YHCHI) released their controversial Cunnilingus in North Korea, choosing to discuss South Korea’s northern neighbor from an unusual angle: sexual freedom through communism.
“LONG LIVE NORTH KOREAN CUNNILINGUS! LONG LIVE NORTH KOREAN COMMUNISM! LONG LIVE NORTH KOREAN SEXUAL EQUALITY!” states YHCHI at the end of Cunnilingus in North Korea.
The work resulted in a mix of praise and backlash from the art world.
“This year, not even in the span of a year but in the span of six months, four of our works in foreign countries have been rejected because of fear that something bad would happen to people, us, them,” said Marc Voge, half of the YHCHI duo.
Indeed, YHCHI isn’t afraid of pissing people off (“THE FOLLOWING IS A TEXT THAT NORTH KOREA’S DEAR LEADER KIM-JONG IL ASKED YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES TO MAKE” plays at the beginning of Cunnilingus in North Korea). Formed in 1999, YHCHI members Young-Hae Chang and Voge express their philosophy on art and the world through their animated text pieces without attempting to hold back scandalous statements or ideas.
Having had works commissioned by the likes of the Pompidou Center in Paris, the Tate Gallery in London and the New Museum in New York City, Chang and Voge have clearly made an impression on diverse artistic communities. Their work is intensely unique, featuring animated black and white typography that plays over jazz music, the text usually mixing humor with philosophy and contemporary topics.
“EUREKA. NO EXCLAMATION POINT,” says one slide in THE ART OF SLEEP, displayed at the Tate Gallery. “IT’S TOO LATE AT NIGHT FOR EXCLAMATIONS AND CELEBRATIONS.”
Though the typography and style of YHCHI’s pieces are relatively simple, Chang and Voge are able to convey complex philosophies that vary in theme, but always manage to carry a playful, tongue-in-cheek quality.
“EVERYTHING IS FUTILE,” says YHCHI later in THE ART OF SLEEP. “OK, SO I’VE HAD THE NOTION A FEW TIMES BEFORE. MAYBE YOU AND BUDDHA HAVE TOO.”
YHCHI’s works also often make textual references to historical artistic figures that fluctuate between idolization and ridicule.
“Other cultural influences in our work are Marcel Duchamp, who one day decided to stop painting, saying he was tired of getting his hands dirty,” said YHCHI in an interview with the Iowa Review, “Roy Lichtenstein, who found a simple artistic vocabulary, and stuck to it; and Andy Warhol, who, more than the Chinese government ever could, succeeded with his Mao portraits in putting a certain face on China.”
Outside of their onscreen text, YACHI itself maintains a certain distinct character. For example, during a recent lecture series at the University of Michigan, Chang played the group’s CEO while Voge was an employee of Chang’s Heavy Industries “company.” Voge did all the talking while Chang stood by to give an infrequent, solemn nod.
Voge, in character, said that art should be easy because life is hard. Artists don’t succeed by maximizing the correlation between an investment of time and energy and a substantial return. Because you can “bullshit your way through art,” artists live easy lives.
“ART IS EVERYTHING,” says YHCHI in THE ART OF SLEEP, eventually coming to the realization that if art is everything, who needs artists?
(Of course, this realization rings of irony since the text itself is part of a work of art created by artists.)
In essence, YHCHI’s work is not just funny, scandalous or outrageous: it is complex and original. Even if YHCHI’s works continue to be rejected and criticized by the artistic community, YHCHI will keep pushing the boundaries of art.
YHCHI’s exhibit will be on display through December 30, 2012 at the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor. For more information or to view their work online, visit www.yhchang.com.