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Rebranding Identity: Bringing the gallery into the digital age

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?, 2012, original text and music soundtrack, 11 min 13 sec loop, one of a two-channel HD QuickTime movie, Courtesy YHCHI

By Jonathan Odden, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 11, 2012

The Internet is now our bookstore. It’s our auction house, matchmaker, entertainer, newspaper and the first place we go for bad medical advice. But is the Internet also our new art gallery? The pioneering work of Seoul-based corporation Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, whose newly commissioned work is on display at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, would argue that it is.

Though selectively calling themselves a corporation, YHCHI actually consists of two collaborative artists, Young-hae Chang, a South Korean native, and Chinese-American Marc Voge. The former is YHCHI’s chief executive officer and the latter its chief information officer. The two artists began working together in 1999 after meeting in Paris.

Why do the collaborators work as a quasi-corporation? In a 2005 interview the artists explained that, “ ‘YHC’ is for Young-Hae and ‘HI’ is for Marc. We changed Marc into ‘Heavy Industries,’ because Koreans love big companies and Marc doesn’t mind being objectified and capitalized on.”

Their answer, blatant as it is nuanced, with a sardonic tinge, is essential to the concept and the understanding of their work. In a world where corporations can be viewed as real as people, with ideologies and agendas — think Chick-Fil-A — YHCHI both embraces that trend and rejects it, forcing you to reconcile the discrepancy.

Sensory overload

In order to pick apart these modern incongruities, YHCHI adopted the use of Flash-based basic text flickering on a minimalistic template with syncopated accompaniment. According to Natsu Oyobe, associate curator of Asian art at UMMA and curator of YHCHI’s new installation, the model has proven to be a very adaptive and expandable form.

“YHCHI’s work has become increasingly complex as it exploits the three-dimensional possibilities of the medium, a development seen in video works by other artists since the 1990s,” Oyobe said.

Often their text is quick, nearly unreadable, with bombastic jazz or percussion. Entering their new installation can feel like a sensory overload, surrounded by eight panels that throw text, piano and accordion at the viewer. But most striking are the muted moments, like when the gallery goes silent and flickers “***” on every panel. Taking a breath, one could try to capture the swirling subject matter just before the work begins galloping away again.

Oyobe writes in the show’s companion book that “(their) work confronts the viewer with stark contrasts — the grand and the mundane, official history and private history, violence and tranquility, sacred and profane, and international and local — at high velocity and with a brilliant sense of humor and irony.”

This is clear in their piece from 12 years ago, “Samsung Means to Come,” in which a sexually unsatisfied housewife experiences her first orgasm only while dreaming about South Korea’s largest electronic company. A truly bizarre account, told as if it is a confession, YHCHI’s absurd work points to the all-too-real domination of consumer culture in our minds.

“And their critique extends to the viewer of the story as well: The housewife’s ecstatic state of mind is very much an allegory of our image of the comfortable life, surrounded by the latest electronics and modern amenities,” Oyobe writes in the artist’s book.

It’s something to think about next time you get excited for the new iPhone.

“I like the way they don’t shy away from the bigger, hot topics these days,” Oyobe said. “Their subjects are right at the forefront of social issues and we became interested in them, not only because they are breaking substantial new ground in digital art, but because their art really resonates with college students.”

Visibility and accessibility

For their UMMA show, YHCHI has installed a two-channel set of pieces, fully titled “Isn’t it the Greatest in the World? Part 1: What to Do Good?


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