Wednesday, September 23, 2009

YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES is Its C.E.O., Young-hae Chang (Korea), and its C.I.O., Marc Voge (USA) are based in Seoul. YHCHI has made work in 16 languages and presented much of it at the following institutions: Tate, London, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Whitney Museum, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Getty Center, Los Angeles, the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Venice Biennial, the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial, the São Paulo Biennial, the Kitakyushu Biennial, and the Istanbul Biennial.

Using mostly jazz musical forms, a plain typeface (Monaco) and Flash animation technology, Chang and Voge have built a body of Web-based works that present seductive, acerbic and sophisticated narratives. Clicking on a title or a link activates a story that unfurls as type in the browser window, each work experienced at its own pace without stopping, providing an experience somewhere between a reading and a movie. Their work dispenses with the usual interactivity and other characteristics of Web-based media; most works are offered in several languages and the socio-political consciousness of the text is emphasized via the screen’s material effects—type size and weight, velocity and duration. The works engage modernist structures, the intelligibility of language, notions of text and subtext, and both evoke and update print-based experiences.

If you really want to see their resumé, go to this link:

This interview was done via email.

J. Roca.

José Roca: Printmaking has been often defined as having three components: a matrix, a medium (ink) and a support (surface), its main feature being its repeatability. Do you see the web as a matrix, and web-based work as a kind of print-in-potency?

YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES: We've never considered those components. We've never considered our work to have much to do with print and printmaking.

JR: Fair enough. But in my opinion, the web can be understood as a contemporary version of the wheat-pasted poster or the pamphlet in its capacity of addressing the public sphere.

YHCHI: Uh-huh.

JR: For the new Museum you did (I believe for the first time) a multi-channel installation, displacing the experience of the piecefrom a static relation with the screen to an implied movement of the body in space. Is this a new direction that you are interested in pursuing?

YHCHI: Yes, by all means, as long as the opportunities present themselves. Maybe Philagrafika?

JR: Maybe! I believe that installation was offline, due to the technical difficulties to sync seven screens to maintain the pace of the narratives. The implication is that the work can be objectified as a video installation: it exists as an object and not just as information that flows on the web. Is it also a new direction?

YHCHI: Great, thanks for the enthusiastic "Maybe!" Actually, we've been doing offline work for many years now. In that sense, our New Museum installation isn't a new direction. Technologically, it was never a question of doing the installation online. As for our moving from the virtual to the real, we, like so many others these days, have done it more or less seamlessly. It's sort of like having switched from the printed version to the online version of the New York Times without thinking much about the objective difference. Which is not to say that it's the same thing when it comes to books, as you're well aware, we're sure, of the discussion around that.

JR: I only brought it up because in a talk I recently attended at Temple Gallery in Philadelphia, one of the curators of that show did say that the question of the work being online or not had been a point of disagreement. So it’s great to learn that it finally did not become a relevant issue.

Type is featured prominently in your work, as is music, particularly jazz. You use Monaco typeface, which was designed for Macs and has been rated as one of the best fonts for programming due to consistency and legibility.

YHCHI: No kidding. It's news to us that the Monaco font does what you say it does. We chose it for the name.

JR: Really? I would have thought that you are actually interested in the graphic image and all it entails, since on interviews you have done with other artists you stress the importance of the graphic style and language. Maybe just in the work of others?

YHCHI: Well, notwithstanding that we say a lot of things that we immediately either forget or contradict, including possible comments in an interview you're referring to, we do remember having said somewhere that we're uninterested in graphic art and typography. Which is true. We like to believe we're all about content. We like the Monaco font—the way some may have liked the Mao jacket—a uniform that you put on every day without thinking, without having to worry about fashion or dress code.

JR: The consistent use of a particular font and type of music has let you concentrate on content and not form, but paradoxically it has resulted in a distinct style, your trademark visuals and sound… I guess it’s unavoidable.

What is the reasoning behind the choice of music?

YHCHI: We're like everyone, we suppose. We like the music we like. Moreover, since we started making all the music for our works several years ago, we make what we can make. We're not really musicians, we have no musical talent, so we do what we can. We also believe that any sound can go with any situation. Tap your foot, drum on the table, whistle, it's all meaningful then and there.

JR: Many so-called Web artists take advantage of what Internet distinctly offers, one of them being interactivity, the other the possibility of (at least potentially) universal access. Since interactivity is completely shunned in your works, could we say that what interests you more about the medium you use is dissemination and accessibility?

YHCHI: Yes, but what interests us even more is artistry.

JR: North Korea appears on several of your works as an antagonistic forceliteral or metaphorical. Internet access there is still very scarce and limited to government officials; have you been contacted by anyone in North Korea, and if so, has any meaningful conversation ensued?

YHCHI: Kim Jong-il, the Dear Leader, invited us to communicate his text, CUNNILINGUS IN NORTH KOREA (

JR: Your works are in the collection of several museums and institutions such as the Pompidou Center in Paris, The Samsung Museum in Seoul and the MEIAC in Madrid. How does web art get commercialized? What exactly does the collecting institution own, since all your works are publicly distributed on the web? Would you care to speak more about this protocol?

YHCHI: Using our own work as an example, we can confirm that Web art is bought and sold like any other art form. An art institution that acquires our work owns a digital file and has the right to exhibit it in public, usually projected or on a plasma screen. A private collector can do the same thing in his/her home, over the couch in the living room, for instance.

JR: It has been said that the CIO of a company is usually too busy keeping the ship's engines running smoothly to come up onto the command deck and make suggestions to the captain (CEO) on course changes. Does this characterization fit the division of labor within your industry?

YHCHI: Yes. Indeed, the C.I.O. of our company does the heavy lifting belowdecks while the C.E.O. watches the horizon from the bridge. The C.I.O. gets his hands dirty, while the C.E.O. wears spotless white gloves. The C.I.O. has a lot to say. The C.E.O. speaks little except when necessary to navigate the ship.

JR: Warhol, whose nonchalance in answering interviews was legendary (as yours is becoming), also invoked an industrial metaphor to name his studio/practice. He famously said at some point that you always paint the same painting. Are you taking some cues from the Pop(e)?

YHCHI: Warhol's attitiude toward art has probably subconsciously influenced many artists' public personas, including ours. Since you bring it up, if we think about it, yes, you can never be too nonchalant. Otherwise, you fall into the category of the romantic—the brilliant artist who agonizes over every brushstroke. There is no in-between. Artists are extremists. Once you pay attention to the gray area in-between you become like everyone else: considerate, thoughtful, measured, responsible. You're mistaken for a smart guy. And everyone knows where the smart guys have led us these days. So, given the choice, Warholian nonchalance seems to be more appropriate for artists today.