Black text flashes on a white screen. The words get bigger, then smaller. The tempo accelerates, then slows, as if propelled by the jazzy soundtrack. Your heart begins to race as you realize you are the protagonist in the story being told. You are rooted to the spot, waiting in suspense to read the rest of the story. Is this a warning? Distress signal? Message from the past, or the future?
Seoul-based Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries (YHCHI) — a collaboration between Young-Hae Chang and Marc Voge — makes web-based work that exists somewhere between art, literature and cinema. Using the minimalist aesthetic of the early internet, YHCHI’s text-based Flash animations hold nothing back. Through biting wit, linguistic precision and humor, the seven artworks featured in this exhibition offer a timely perspective on themes of power, freedom, equality, racism and xenophobia.
YHCHI’s animations unfold as narratives that trigger our own anxieties and fears about belonging and often evoke dread. For example, Bust Down the Door! (2004/2016) casts the viewer, in turn, as traitor about to be executed, executioner and witness to the execution. In Ah (2008/2017), we are thrust into the shoes of “the guy who gets pulled out of the line by the guy with the badge.” Others defuse tension with humor, such as The Struggle Continues (2000/2016), in which “the struggle” turns out to be the “stark-naked struggle for love.”
YHCHI’s pared-down technique results in an immediacy that makes these works, even those produced 20 years ago, seem ripped from today’s headlines, newscasts or social media streams. Cinematic techniques, such as rhythmic editing synchronized to a soundtrack of original jazz-infused compositions, heighten the drama of each narrative.
By exploiting the capabilities of time-based media, YHCHI’s work can be seen as an extension of concrete poetry, which relies on visual patterns and typography to convey meaning. YHCHI’s animations also allude to conceptual art practices, using text as the primary medium and favoring non-commercial channels of distribution, in this case the world wide web (YHCHI offers free access to most of its work on its website, www.yhchang.com).
The exhibition comprises seven projected animations and includes the world premiere of So, You Made It. What Do You Know. Congratulations and Welcome! (2016), a response to the Syrian refugee crisis.