Interview with Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries

“… In the light of the issue of the Millennium Development Goals, Visual Foreign Correspondents asked the Korean duo Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries for their contribution. They decided to show a remake of the work Morning of the Mongloids. Based in Seoul, South Korea, Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries, composed of the Korean Young-hae Chang and the American Marc Voge, combine text with jazz music with Flash productions in which they use solely the Monaco font. In these works they are breaking the Internet tendency to emphasize interactivity and foregrounding photo’s, illustrations and excessive use of colors.

They bombard language as the essence of the Internet. They write in three different languages, English, Korean, and French. As they say in the interview below: We speak and write a few languages between us, some better than others. We think that language, especially English, is up for grabs these days. It’s a powerful political and cultural tool for people around the world. And as written in an interview with Thom Swiss in 2004:

Each one comes with a full baggage of history and culture. 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.

But besides this use of language which can have political and cultural implications they also said in that same interview with Thom Swiss:

It’s pretty obvious that the “tone” or “voice” of Internet literature is more distant and difficult to “locate” than traditional writing. Mere book packaging tells a lot about the book and the author; browser packaging is generic. Internet writers can either see this as a problem or welcome it as a relief from the critical fashion of reading biography into every aspect of literature. As for the look of our work, we do what we can. We’ve never been interested in graphic design (a lot of Web artists, even writers, start out or double as graphic artists). There are hundreds of fonts, millions of colors, 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.

But of course by using just the Monaco font (but who knows until when) and jazz they have become really recognizable, but just for that, not for their, so to speak ‘Korean’ view or visuals or whatever, it remains in that sense distant and anonym.

This is also what makes this duo interesting in respect of the Visual Foreign Correspondents series wherein artists from around the world are being asked to give their ‘local’ visual view on their surroundings. Because since Internet poetry/art is more distant and anonymous then let’s say video art, this was a nice opportunity for a different foreign view. By asking them for this context, they suggested the work ‘Morning of the Mongoloid’. Which is about a man getting up one morning as a changed person. (In this Interview they say they wanted an opening similar to the one in Kafka’s The
Metamorphosis.) It is the hilarious, tragic and ironical story of a white man who wakes up with a hangover after a night of partying in somebody else his skin. Slowly he finds out, without any logical reason for this, that he looks Korean, speaks Korean and lives in Seoul. With this work the artists do not display their own vision on the local environment, but are eventually holding a mirror on us.
Through the (Korean) view of Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries the westerners are being confronted with their biased views on Asian people. According to the duo the transformation of the man has something to do with our fears of the Other.

Thinking of the millennium goals I asked them if the piece holds any science fictional aspects to them, that this skin culture change might happen in 100 years, or how they see the future in respect of the fear of the Other? And they responded with: There are a lot of Asians in the world that’s what struck us one day. You could have an identity crisis if you had a problem with this.

Petra Heck: To start with, can you inform us about when and how Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries started?

Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries: In 1998. We met in a gym, had coffee, and discovered some mutual interests, one of which was our desire to see if by adding up two mediocre talents we could come up with something greater than their sum.

In an Interview I read that you coined the term yourself ‘Industries’ because everyone in Korea envies the huge multinational corporations that have a heavy industries flag and that you wanted to have your own too. How do people consider your practice in Korea and outside that context, name wise, but also the content of your work, like for instance the sexual politics hinted piece called ‘Cunnilingus in North Korea’.

As far as we know, no one in Korea has ever commented on CUNNILINGUS IN NORTH KOREA. Moreover, no one in Korea has ever written anything noteworthy on our work.

Have you got any idea why no one has ever written anything noteworthy in Korea?

Could it be because gulp no one in Korea finds our work noteworthy?

Can you explain a little about the background of your work, where the form and content arose from in the context of Internet art, or art in general, or anything else you want to relate it to?

Those who are interested in our work know by now that we’ve never been big on interactivity. Others may also know that our goal was to make art that could be downloaded fast on a 56K modem and have it fill up the browser and play for a certain duration, something that could make the Web entertaining, like TV and the movies. We feel that the advent and domination of YouTube on the Web validates this initial goal.

But why having these strict restrictions (still currently)?

That question may be sort of like asking someone (a Dutch person?) who has learned to ride a bicycle and now enjoys it and has made it a part of her lifestyle why, when she gets a job that allows her to own a car, she doesn’t give up the bicycle.

Do you both consider the text to be simply text, don’t you think you turn them into images as well? As some people call them animation, because it seems that by a certain new media art definition of things, this is what you do apparently when you use Flash they say… and someone suggested that you do motion graphics? You said you don’t really use graphics, just the Monaco font, but can’t you use just the Monaco font as a graphical thing?

We don’t spend much time considering what we do. We invite others such as you to deal with our work. We wouldn’t want to have the first, last, or even any word on it. We already spend quite a bit of time writing texts.

And why are you using particularly the Monaco font? And will you ever change to working in another font?

We liked the name. Yes, we will change. Someone will force us to.

Are you referring to someone in particular here?

Yes, except we don’t know who that someone is. But as everyone knows these days, technology changes. Everything changes, ergo, the Monaco font will change. Someone will make this decision.

What is your relation both Young-hae and Marc to language, and then I mean specifically for you both personally related to your mother-tongue and what language means to you in regard to the history of the country, culturally or in any other sense?

That’s a good one. We speak and write a few languages between us, some better than others. We think that language, especially English, is up for grabs these days. It’s a powerful political and cultural tool for people around the world.

Can you explain a little bit more about the political and powerful tool?

The digital world, globalization, globalized culture, those who believe in Westernization and those who fight it to death they all rely on one constant: no, not the computer, but English and the cultural bagage inherent in English, whether you like it or not.

And how is that different from the relation to images? And how do you see this in relation to the developments of the current technological society?

Well, artists use language as an object in their work. This is what we do, too. We have no idea how our work fits into today’s technological society. As a digital commodity?

Is there a relation to, or inspiration coming from, earlier text-writers, like dada / futurists / poesie concrete?

Yes! We love Marcel Duchamp.

What about the inspiration for the stories, do they come from your local, direct experiences, or from media, from anything else, or all together?

We get our inspiration from everything, like most artists and writers, probably not a great answer to your question, but true.

Could you say something about why you chose particularly for this work as your contribution to VFC? Is the mirroring aspect, that you regard Korea through the eyes of biased views of westerners more interesting to you in this context, than showing us ‘foreign’ view on your local Korea? Of course foreign makes it foreign just depending on the perspective of where you live….

We wanted to start a short story with an opening similar to the one in Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.”

Does the piece contain any science fictional aspects for you, that you think this could happen in 100 years this skin/culture change, or how do you see the future in respect of the essential aspect within MORNING OF THE MONGOLOIDS: the fear of the Other?

There are a lot of Asians in the world that’s what struck us one day. You could have an identity crisis if you had a problem with this.

Do you consider living and working in Seoul as important for your work, or could you have been based anywhere, making Internet work and so on? Will you ever move?

We could live anywhere. We’re tired of Seoul. Yes, we will move. We’d enjoy living in Amsterdam, riding a bicycle. We like the Dutch.

You mentioned somewhere in a reaction to a question that your work is ideally seen through the website, but that public space offers the opportunity to meet the public, which is less lonely. Could you elaborate on this, especially since this work will also be shown next to websites in public space?

Other than us, there aren’t any Net artists in Korea. We think this is because Koreans, including Korean artists, are very sociable people. There’s nothing sociable about making Net art. You make a piece, upload it, start over. So it’s a lonely lifestyle. One day we decided to sacrifice the Net art ideal a bit, come down into the real world, and meet some people. In that regard, thank you, Petra, for your insightful questions, and thank you for inviting us to present our work in your program.

Oct 23, 11:41
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  1. Net Art Update at Deeplinking:

    […] Chang focused on English as a global dialect that is “up for grabs these days.” In an interview posted the other day on Nettime, they call English “a powerful political and cultural tool […]

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