Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries

Asian Art Museum | San Francisco
200 Larkin Street
July 7, 2017–October 1, 2017

Young-Hae Chang and Marc Voge, So you made it. What do you know. Congratulations and Welcome!, 2016, Flash animation, 5 minutes 19 seconds.

This set of video projections by internet-art trailblazers Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries combines their signature text-based Flash animations with their more recent investigations of landscape and locality. Each work juxtaposes bursts of text so rapid they require focused speed-reading, with a bright, jazzy sound track that often undermines or complicates the written messages. The more playful narratives include science-fictional speculations and downright seductive declamations of resistance and comradeship; the artists are obviously fascinated by the effect of turning raciness into concrete poetry, with letters that change size and flit around the screen like frenetic, at times lascivious cartoon characters.

In contrast to these lighter works, most of their exhibited pieces use repetitions of text to bombard and overwhelm, and focus directly on how particular real bodies are threatened by authoritarian power, as in Ah, 2008/2017, a tense account of a profiled traveler being called out of an airport security line, along with his desperate internal monologue expressing his wish to be, for once, one of the so-called good guys who can pass freely. The repeated “AH” that often fills the screen, breaking up the narrative, performs both a potential sigh of relief and a silent scream.

A new work about the Syrian refugee crisis (So you made it. What do you know. Congratulations and Welcome!, 2016–2017) abandons the artists’ typical flat, white background and locates the viewer in a real place: a dreary, overcast city where snow melts from branches in front of a brick wall. Across this scene, a caustic written monologue explains, with dark humor, the impossibilities of molding oneself to succeed in this new place. This location could be any grim city with an unfamiliar chill in the air, and the bilingual projection with Spanish on the opposite wall suggests that the subject position of the refugee applies as a default rather than an exception.

Monica Westin