Seoul

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, ALL UNHAPPY FAMILIES ARE ALIKE, 2016, two-channel HD video projection, color, sound, 6 minutes 48 seconds. Installation view. Photo: Sang-tae Kim.

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, ALL UNHAPPY FAMILIES ARE ALIKE, 2016, two-channel HD video projection, color, sound, 6 minutes 48 seconds. Installation view. Photo: Sang-tae Kim.

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries

Art Sonje Center

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, ALL UNHAPPY FAMILIES ARE ALIKE, 2016, two-channel HD video projection, color, sound, 6 minutes 48 seconds. Installation view. Photo: Sang-tae Kim.

In recent months, South Korea has seen manifold protests against President Park Geun-hye, who has been accused of mounting a bribery scheme involving her long-term friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil. The president has been impeached, and now, in fact, removed from office, yet protests continue in public squares and avenues in central Seoul. One camp will not stop rallying until Park is jailed; the other defends her, South Korean and US flags in hand, fearful of a repeated invasion from North Korea. As the crisis unfolds, high-level executives from several big corporations are under scrutiny. There could not have been a more timely moment for Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ exhibition “LIFE IN THREE EASY VIDEO TUTORIALS,” curated by Sunjung Kim, director of the Art Sonje Center.

These “tutorials” were presented as bilingual video projections, in Korean on the left and English on the right. The scale of outdoor video walls, the animated text works were developed in the artist duo’s signature Monaco font. The works reflect on Korean life at the levels of family, economy, and politics. ALL UNHAPPY FAMILIES ARE ALIKE (all works 2016) recalls the famous opening line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1877) and reflects the troubled atmosphere around the dinner table at a New Year’s celebration in a Korean home. Accompanied by a jazzy sound track, the narrative revolves around an escalating conflict fueled by alcohol: Starting with quarrels concerning unanswered pitches for business ideas, expensive trips to Paris, money loans within the family, offensive comments on obesity, and plastic surgery, the video ends with an uncle stabbing his brother in the face with chopsticks.

The second tutorial, SAMSUNG MEANS TO DIE, refers to the all-encompassing power of the country’s biggest conglomerate and its impact on family lives. It seems desirable to many Koreans to join the chaebol’s ranks, thereby becoming eligible for an apartment in one of the company’s omnipresent high-rises in the capital. And that’s just the beginning: Besides manufacturing electronics and household goods, Samsung maintains schools, restaurants, hospitals, funeral homes, and more. The two-channel video leaves us with the dystopian vision of a bankrupt parent under death threat from a child, who needs an inheritance to maintain his habits and expensive lifestyle.

Finally, POLITICIANS WHO DYE THEIR HAIR—WHAT ARE THEY HIDING? mocks the deceptive behavior of officeholders trying to hide their gray hair from the prostitutes they’re entertaining with expensive taxpayer-funded dinners. Stating that “fake color cries out that they are being fake with us,” the piece praises the acceptance of age, wrinkles, and balding as an act of sincerity. Works on the center’s home page, the takeaway pamphlet HOW TO MESS UP YOUR LIFE/HOW TO BE AN ARTIST, and banners installed outside the building complemented the exhibition.

The day I left Seoul, Samsung’s vice chairman, Lee Jae-yong, was attending a hearing to review a warrant for his arrest for participating in Park’s bribery scheme. Newspapers reported that more arrests of top businessmen are expected to follow. A few days later, the country’s culture minister, Cho Yoon-sun, was arrested for allegedly blacklisting nearly ten thousand artists during Park’s presidential tenure. In a climate heavy with deception and betrayal, and with a huge corruption plot coming to light, this exhibition functioned like a mirror, courageously reflecting a society struggling to emancipate itself from its patriarchal and dynastic structures.

Tobi Maier