When Young-hae Chang (Korea) and Marc Voge (USA) met in 1998 in a gym, and shared coffee and conversation, they chanced to discover their mutual interests, which included, their “desire to see if by adding up two mediocre talents, we could come up with something greater than their sum.”
This ethos of the first meeting between the now Chief Executive Officer and CIO of Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, currently based in Seoul, reminds one of the inimitable Vaikom Muhammad Basheer (1908-1998), the disarmingly down-to-earth stylist in Malayalam, who said 1+1 does not make 2, but “immini balyoronnu” – a big 1.As one walks into Aspinwall House where YHCHI are featured as artists at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018-19, and sees their work translated into Malayalam–widely spaced text filling the screens on which they are displayed, and jumping at your face–the serendipitous connection between the psychic modes of these web artists and Kerala’s all-time beloved writer becomes more apparent than ever: provocation, in the simplest words available, triggered by the most democratic of causes, and, yet, invested with the most ironic of undertones possible.
What makes YHCHI the perennial provocateurs that they are? Our engagement with the works of this artist-duo reveals that we may use three prisms to understand their contemporaneity
Arguably Korea’s sole internet artists, YHCHI have been making text-based animations in numerous world languages while constructing art for internet platforms for more than two decades now.Beginning their work in the wake of the new millennium, they began making texts that signal how, globally, gadgets and the digital realm have come to be so very interdependent. Their work, presented in 21 languages so far, is characterised by text-based animation composed in Adobe Flash that is highly synchronised to a musical score, which that is often original and typically jazz.These flash-based videos featuring short texts in Monaco font directly speak of human dependencies on gadgets and digital novelties. These non-rewindable texts look and feel like a string of slogans streamed determinedly and evoke some of the bold contemporary strategies of advertising, journalism, and political propaganda.
While the internet offers enormous possibilities of interaction, the internet it can also be intimidating. In the vastness of the worldwide web, it is only natural for anyone to get lost. So, Internet can give one an inferiority complex and make one depressed instantly, or it can create an illusion of popularity and make one paranoid about losing it all.How would one ensure that one is seen or heard at all in the cyberspace? What slow and steady choices would one make to remain there and make an impact?
While, most people on the internet would want to use the latest technologies that would deliver efficiency, speed and user-friendliness, YHCHI’s work is ‘given’ to you. You can close it and open it, but cannot really ‘play’ with it. You are forced to choose either to have it or not to have it.
For many years now, YHCHI’s work has come to us in the same font in big black lettering, because they simply liked the sound of the name Monaco! They called themselves ‘Industries’ because, arguably, everyone in Korea envied the huge multinational corporations that has a heavy industries flag and they wanted to have their own too. Those reasons do not seem like choices considered at all, but they have nevertheless, been choices made. And, over time, that has become their signature and identity – they stand out and are recognised among the plethora of fonts and sizes and colours in the internet world. Like Basheer, whose colloquialism did not seem a literary style at all to many of his early contemporaries, YHCHI’s seemingly random choice about the ‘how’ of their presentations have now come to be a recognisable identity. And, they have in a very organic and profound way cracked what many immersed in the internet world could not do: they have got control over the device and the technology rather than letting these take charge of them. Their art, thus powerfully reveals through its very presence, how the gadgets may not control our life and dictate the way we work and communicate if we don’t let them. They urge us not to fall for their false promises of making life easier and of bringing success instantly. Today, we can’t see their work but as a reflection of their perseverance and patience, which they never spoke about. Indeed, it isa cool, contemporary assertion of the fundamental human capacity for choice-making and the right to have a free mind even in our gadget-infested times.
Does this mean that YHCHI are trapped in their current identity? Will the internet world offer them freedom from the fear of non-recognition? How would one balance the creative question of stagnation and the need to have a face and an identity? In their work titled ‘Morning of the Mongoloid’, we get a clue about their thoughts on this puzzle.
And, that is exactly what they do in the internet world. In an interview with Petra Heck they say that they will change their chosen font Monaco, but they don’t know when or who will change it – but change will certainly come, and that they accept. Likewise, they will move from Seoul, maybe to Amsterdam, but they don’t know when or how, but move they will, and they are ready for it. Of course, they are web-based artists, dealing with the concerns of contemporary humanity at large which have local resonances everywhere, and does it matter where they move? Or, haven’t they already moved everywhere? This objective understanding of the changeability of human condition is what emerges as one tries to closely understand YHCHI. And, this attempt has to be your own – they would rather work than speak of their work!
When LILA requested for an interview, their response was typical – they wanted to know what we thought of their work. We now notice that even in the very few interviews they have given, they are mostly leading the interviewer, speaking less, rather than the interviewer leading them. They seem not bothered by the fact that in Korea no one has written anything noteworthy about them, because according to them, perhaps, no one in Korea has found their work noteworthy! And, so, here we are, acknowledging how they urge, in their characteristically underspoken and ironical ways, everyone they interact with, to take charge of their own lives objectively, and not to be led blindly by the other, human or gadget!
YHCHI offers a new lesson in strategy as they sustain themselves in the cyberspace and build a community of thinking people despite the overwhelming novelties and gimmicks out there. It seems one can’t ignore for long that, beyond their persistent flashy style, they are slowly drawing one into a profound conversation on ethics. In an accessible style, very much like our beloved Basheer, they invite us to explore subjects of homelessness, alienation, sexual and gender politics, communism, oppression, and free speech. Their stark pieces, characterised by speed, on closer examination reveal to be embedded with significant references to film, history, literature, politics etc. And, then you see why they use stark verbal language as their only tool in the internet world full of visuals and ornaments. As told to Petra Heck, they “think that language, especially English, is up for grabs these days. It is powerful political tool for people around the world.” In another interview with Thom Swiss they say: “Language is the essence of the Internet, the real gateway to using the Internet. To write, read, chat in English on the Internet is to implicitly justify a certain history. Certain governments don’t ban or burn books anymore, they prevent access to the Internet, meaning they justify a different history than the one we do by using English.”
It is this belief in the power of ‘word-action’ that make them a distinct presence in the internet world. But that distinctiveness is not alienating, even as they make no overt attempt to make connection or build a community, their investment in the unique human gift, ‘word’, helps them find their connections, and a multi dynamic community is built in a very organic manner. As they told Thom Swiss: “There are hundreds of fonts, millions of colours, and we don’t know what to do about that. So, no, we can’t and won’t help readers to ‘locate’ us. Distance, homelessness, anonymity and insignificance are all part of the Internet literary voice, and we welcome them.” So, they don’t make any attempt in their work to generate interactivity, but their work can download fast on a basic modem. It fills up the browser and plays for a while, and finds a paradigmatic connection with a mode of entertainment like the films, which has a large and varied engagement base.
The uniquely significant potential of YHCHI as contemporary thinkers, it seems, has not yet been recognised fully. But, it is certain that, deeper studies on their work, the appearance of which, in fact, deters one from making any deep study in the first place, will reveal how their work can contribute, leading our gizmo-addicted generation towards a saner mode of living. But, we need to read closely, beyond the flash, for they have, like their favourite Marcel Duchamp, persuaded themselves ‘to contradict themselves in order to avoid conforming to their own taste.’ In any case, at LILA, we are happy to have found them ion our own ‘play’ way.
Donation to LILA is eligible for tax exemption u/s 80 G (5) (VI) of the Income Tax Act 1961 vide order no. NQ CIT (E) 6139 DEL-LE25902-16032015 dated 16/03/2015