Young Hae Chang Heavy Industries (YHCHI) are a Seoul-based duo formed in 1999. Since then, American poet Marc Voge and Korean artist/translator Young Hae Chang have been producing innovative text-based animations which incorporate their signature font, Monaco. Self-described as “digital literature”, their work has been translated into over 20 languages and exhibited at both Tate London and Centre Pompidou. Their ambitious work, despite containing a definite colloquial element, underpins challenging concepts such as the human condition and our relationship to technology.
Rather than screening the animations in a gallery space, Travelling to Utopia: With a Brief History of Technology and So, So Soulful were projected on a loop onto the exterior wall of Tay’s Thornton building on the waterfront, making the work more accessible to the wider community and presenting the NEoN Arts Festival on a more public platform.
The videos are purely text based, like computer generated poetry, and their use of a font that was commonly used in databases and programming creates an “old school” feel. The most striking aspect of Travelling to Utopia… is its pace: the viewer is constantly struggling to keep up with the bombarding narrative as it outlines an individual’s life in relation to technology. It echoes the growing prevalence of technology in our lives; the story intensifies exponentially from “I was born into a house with no computer, then there was one”, to the discovery of a chip implanted into a person’s body. By displaying technology’s omnipotence today, YHCHI effectively estrange us from it.
The first film is intrinsically connected to So, So Soulful in terms of style and pace. However, the tone of the text is shifted to portray a sense of dissatisfaction with the narrator’s current state of affairs. With fast-moving text and a multi-coloured background, YHCHI offer us a vivid account of everyday life. The text details a man’s longing to travel to Detroit and discover Motown with his girlfriend. The poetry is effective in illustrating the dissonance between the man’s passion and his partner’s lack thereof; through a series of poetic tweets, we come to understand his enthusiasm for an escape into the discovery of soul music and her bland longing to return to the office. The gushy, soulful soundtrack that accompanies the text and psychedelic background amplifies the romantic nature of a yearning notion.
Despite the crucial role of fun and quirk within YHCHI’s videos, the audience is forcefully immersed in a captivating yet frustrating form of literature. Their work embodies feelings of distance and insignificance in the technological age and imposes it on the viewers, whose freedom is restricted by the difficulty of keeping up with the text. YHCHI describe their work as a “dictatorial stranglehold”- we are thrown into the plot, not invited. Keeping up with the modern technological world, at all costs, is the primary concern of their practice. They then impose this concern on us.
We are almost left out in the cold with these videos, both physically and metaphorically. The vastness of the urban space adds a thought-provoking dimension to the work as feelings of estranging loneliness surface. Alongside the static technological architecture, the fast paced films ominously echo the hollowness of the technological age.
YHCHI draw the viewer into a vivid, somewhat humorous imagining of a prosaic existence. Distorted escapism is a running theme throughout both videos. Travelling to Utopia questions whether we can ever escape the technological age, asking “how can utopia exist?” So, So Soulful contends an ideal existence but reality is left ambiguous. These thought-provoking works leave the viewer questioning the real and the unreal in continuing human development; we are left pondering the value of human embedment in technology and whether contentedness could ever truly exist in a world so transient.