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TRAVELING TO UTOPIA
TRAVELING TO UTOPIA
3:50

In late 2016, M+ acquired artist’s proof 2 of 2 of the entire body of work of the artist duo YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES (proof 1 of 2 remains with the artists). This trove included not just editions of everything that they’ve ever exhibited or published over the past twenty years, but also their drafts, unrealised projects, and translated works—we’re talking twenty-six different languages, and counting.

Every acquisition made by a museum for its collection is a commitment in perpetuity—for safekeeping, conservation, displays and exhibitions, and research and education—as museums and their collections, by definition, are permanent. M+ has made this commitment to YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES, the widely acclaimed trailblazer in internet art, because we believe they are some of the most pioneering artists working today and have already made a unique contribution to the history of visual culture.

What makes this acquisition, YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES: THE COMPLETE WORKS (YHCHANG.COM/AP2), extra special is that it will also continue to be updated every six months, for as long as the artists make new work and present their projects internationally. M+ will receive one edition of every work they produce. We believe this is a truly visionary collaboration, and it represents a deep confidence in the artists and their work.

A number of boxes sit in a row against a white background. The box in the centre of the image has been opened, and the lid is lying in front of it. The words ‘The art of sleep, the art of silence’ are printed on the side of the box, while the words ‘Ask some guy in the street if art is worth a damn, he’ll smack you upside the head just for asking’ are on the inside of the lid. More words and phrases printed on the inside of the box.

The packaging that one of the updates for the YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES acquisition came in

Their art will also be featured through the museum’s online spaces, and shown prominently in the M+ building, currently under construction, once it is completed. YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES jokingly—but also seriously, we think—compare this ongoing presence to Constantin Brancusi’s atelier on the plaza of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, or to Marcel Duchamp’s permanent presence at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We feel this is an apt comparison for the artists who pioneered a new art form in the 21st century, and also for the museum being born in the new century.

Who are YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES?

Video still of white text against a night sky that says ‘I will never visit you in Marfa, and you will never take a flight to visit me on Mars’, written in English, above two lines written in Arabic text.

YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES. WA’AD (still), 2014. High-definition video. M+, Hong Kong. © YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES

YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES are South Korean artist Young-Hae Chang and American artist Marc Voge. The Seoul-based duo are pioneers in what was once known as ‘net art’, a late-1990s art movement that has since metamorphosed and merged into broader contemporary art practice. The artists formed YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES in 1997, and since then have been producing digital works that maintain a very consistent aesthetic: frenetic text-based animations presented in the ‘Monaco’ typeface, generally synchronised with original music—often jazz—composed by the artists. For a very long time, their works were created with Adobe Flash animation software, but they are now looking towards different emulations of Flash as that technology is phased out. A lot of their work is published free and online on yhchang.com, so that anybody with an internet connection can experience it.

Watching any YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES’ animation, one is struck by their witty and playful narratives that are often undercut with timely social and political commentaries. The works weave together slippery vignettes about everyday life, personal relationships, politics, and the art world. The works’ narrators are anonymous and ever-shifting: subject positions pivot, splinter, and merge. One never really knows who is telling these stories, or how trustworthy the narrators might be. Anonymity is a defining feature of cyberspace, and the artists embrace this ambiguous subject position in their work.

YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES also use music and pacing in a very sophisticated and engaging way to capture and sustain their audience’s attention. As narrative fragments flash before one’s eyes, it often takes some seconds before easing into the rhythm of the work, allowing one’s eyes and brains to adjust to the rapid-fire pace of the texts. But once those texts get a foothold, resistance is futile. The stories are surprisingly seductive, and they penetrate one’s consciousness in an almost subliminal way. Take for example TRAVELING TO UTOPIA (2005), displayed above, a bilingual work from the M+ acquisition that exemplifies the duo’s practice, and in particular their fascination with technology’s history and omnipresence.

What has M+ acquired this body of work?

M+ has acquired one edition of everything that YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES has ever produced over almost two decades, or will ever produce. While other editions of the works may still be available, no other collection will represent the artists’ entire body of work—with the exception of artist’s proof 1, retained by the artists.

In December 2016, when M+ first acquired YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES: THE COMPLETE WORKS (YHCHANG.COM/AP2), we received more than 450 computer animations, all in the Adobe Flash format, which included almost all of the works that the duo had produced up to that point. Around 150 of those were from their homepage and were readily available to audiences, but we also received over 200 alternative versions that had never been published, including drafts and preparatory work. There were also eighty major artworks that had previously been presented as installations in galleries, museums, and public spaces; five public performance lectures; and one original screenprint. The screenprint, THIS IS NOT A JOKE (2010), is the only physical artwork; all of the others are digital and code-based.

A piece of paper lies on a bright yellow envelope. The entire paper has been cut in half, with only one half present in the photo. The words YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES presents UPDATE NO-[cut off] to YHCHANG.COM/-[cut off] June 2018 have been cut off in the middle. Underneath are the words 50% of certificate of authenticity: Must fit with other 50%.

Detail of one of the boxes from the most recent update from the YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES acquisition

Since then, YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES have sent us regular updates of new works. In June 2017, we received all works from their Asian Art Museum of San Francisco exhibition, SO YOU MADE IT. WHAT DO YOU KNOW. CONGRATULATIONS. AND WELCOME! (2017), about the refugee crisis. In December 2017, we added three multi-channel works from their solo exhibition LIFE IN THREE EASY VIDEO TUTORIALS (2017), which had been installed at Artsonje Center in Seoul earlier that year. Remarkably, this update also included two different versions of THE SAMSUNG PROJECT (1999), a rare live-action work that was the very first art piece they made, for MAAP (Multimedia Art Asia Pacific) in Brisbane, Australia.

The most recent update was in June, with ten new projects from 2016 to 2018 joining the collection. Included on that hard-drive was a lecture performance from the Institute for World Literature conference in Tokyo in July, a public art project installed at the Skanstull Metro Station in central Stockholm, and other exhibition works from Beijing to Chicago to Guatemala to Buenos Aires. All this is to say that YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES have exhibited works all over the world, which is fitting for such globally-minded artists whose work addresses some of the most urgent issues of our time.

Another delightful experience for the M+ team is the level of creativity and attention that goes into the deliveries themselves. Usually when the M+ Registration team is accessioning moving-image works, they receive a nondescript hard drive or a USB via courier, and it’s not a particularly exciting exterior package to look at. But YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES go to a lot of effort to create unique objects and accessories for their hard drives; they’re like matryoshka dolls, with boxes inside boxes that have been plastered with slogans from their artworks. Our registrars have a particularly fun time when YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES’ latest updates arrive in storage—Christmas comes twice a year at M+.

This article was originally published on M+ Stories to coincide with the artists' final-ever talk at M+ Matters: Art and Design in the Digital Realm on 31 August 2018.

Ulanda Blair is Curator, Moving Image at M+.

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