York Chang or not
I saw an exhibition at the 18th Street Arts Center this Friday. It was my first day out in a week and the distant west seemed like a good place to begin. The exhibition is titled “York Chang, second life” or perhaps it is titled “second life, York Chang.” I begin not to trust much when York C. is involved.
I met Chang a few years ago at an exhibition related to his project “The Search for the Visceral Realists.” (I find that the Visceral Realists have their own website here.) It was one of those chance emails I got, the kind I am always following up on. We traded emails and then David and I went to the opening of the show. We spoke with York Chang for quite some time and he showed us excitedly around his show explaining the exploits of his group, whom we presumed that he made up. Ten minutes later, after we had continued looking on our own, we happened to stand by York as he was introduced to a young woman as the curator of the exhibition rather than as the artist. We sort of eavesdropped as he repeated much of the story we had heard, except in this second telling it all sounded so real. The Visceral Realists had existed in South America in the 1980’s and had presented some challenging exhibitions and even a few mass protests. Not a moment of fiction was allowed to enter into his new conversation. The young woman listened, fascinated – just as we had been ten minutes before but for entirely different reasons. I think.
My original interest in the project and its questioning of the possibility for veracity in an experience deepened. Over the ensuing years as I have continued to consider his wily ways my respect for this practitioner has grown. What has also grown is my ability to doubt Chang’s own veracity. Whom have I continued to trust in this exchange? Not him, not the work and not myself. Least of all myself – I’m famously a sucker and soft-hearted for artists. Especially charming ones. Let me back quietly out of this and pose some questions. I’d like to ask these of York but who knows if he’d answer? Let’s see.
So first off York, I have to wonder whether your use of the phrase ‘second life’ is meant to bring Second Life to my mind? This doesn’t make much sense, but I can’t help going there. And you deserve to be asked, since you make use of this phrase.
(I must apologize that I wasn’t able to pick up a checklist, nor did I write down titles. I will make descriptive allusions to the works as I mention them hopeful that you will visit or have already visited the exhibition. At any rate I shall email the Authorities and request they email me a checklist. I shall share it when I am able.)
In the video documentation of James Norell’s practice manifesto, or diatribe, Norell tells us that he “…had the veil of illusion pulled back…” and saw reality for what it is – some version of a futureless and pastless eternal moment. Why the passive voice? Who or what is the active agent in that transaction? Was Norell not seeking such enlightenment? Was he perhaps bent on some other discovery in 1979 when he made these statements?
I want to thank you, btw, for using one of my favorite pop music quotes ever in Norell’s rambling speech: “Hello, hello. Hello. Hello.” That really brought back the old days to me, of dancing like a mad fool for tourists with cameras and watching punks try to turn over a bus outside the big boxing arena downtown. (In fact this live version lacks the repeated ‘hellos’ but makes it up in spirit.)
He’s got light in his eyes and at first he makes a big deal of blocking this irritating light (this punishing light?) with a manila folder or sheaf of papers. I was reminded somehow of that film “The Manchurian Candidate,” not that I remember a scene such as this but somehow I wondered whether Norell was being interrogated… or brainwashed. Or I was?
“Our task is to invent the reality that is in front of us.” Such seductive words York, especially coming from an artist. And how can it be otherwise in an art space? Did they teach you this in school? To invent the reality without naming it? Do you empower your audience to name it for themselves as they struggle and begin to understand, or is your generosity a trap for the willing and the weak?
When does deception begin? Where, York?
In the gallery space are two panels and next to these panels is a photograph of two other, similar panels.
They might be a negative and a positive, as the ‘real’ panels are white in color and the photographic representation shows panels of plywood or fiberboard. The wall tag tells us the photo is a duplicate of an original snapshot from somewhere, perhaps an artist’s studio. The photos and graph paper that are tacked up on the white boards are then… what? Real? Real what? Again, from Norell’s speech – he makes reference many times to dopplegangers/////but no I am wrong. Norell does no such thing. You yourself make reference to dopplegangers again and again in your press release, or somewhere. The Artist Actualization Services group (the purported artist’s group who are the subject of your present inquiry) were fascinated by the possibility and mythology of the doppleganger, the double which precedes us in all our actions. (Did I say this before? Am I repeating myself?) Each image on the right panel is mirrored on the left. Well, not mirrored at all, and this is what makes things fun. I had to search and twist my head around because the photos shrink and bend from the left panel to the right panel.
Shapes, themes and people double and change, within each panel and back and forth. Eagles become X’s, little boys become grown men,a swinger’s sox become code for… what? That one makes Ralph Lauren look like a punter.
Those sox might be a spy’s signal to kill or something.
And the two photos above look like one of those cute little boys from another picture has a rubber and is aiming at the teacher. A spit wad, or a clever retort. Perhaps this little person has developed an intellect and he’s out to destroy authority… What is the empty desk or table that is the target?
Why is one photo, among all of them, placed at an angle? Why is that one colored landscape done Rorschach style? Different photos are backed with different papers from one to another and yet the paper is guaranteed to be real, as in from the time. But none of this stuff is more than six months old, is it York?
I looked at the High Performance mag you include in the show. Pretty cool. Full of lies it is. Facts fly out the window faster than congresspeople after a vote. (Not that legislators can fly – but I bet they wish they could. Can you see them in capes with their little arms stretched above their heads?)
You come so close to creating conspiracy theories and yet what is compelling about your work is its complete lack of reliance on a resemblance to truth, to reality. Political nutcases need the promise of the absolute. This is what makes conspiracy theories so repugnant – they count on the gullibility of their believers. The AAS, like the Visceral Realists before them beg to be questioned. Rather than offer me that sickening intellectual closing in feeling I get when a crazy person spouts crap about the absence of the holocaust, how JFK was killed and any one of a hundred World Trade Center wackinesses – when I think about your projects and listen to you describe them, my mind opens outward, full of questions and desire – not for information but for more searching.
I don’t want certainty. Crazy people are certain.
I guess I’m done, for now.
I’m going to email you this post York, as soon as I hit publish. I’m eager to see if you want to take a whack at it. Feel free to use the comment option or just email me stuff. If you have better images, email me those too. I’ll upload it all with your name on it.
Oh – a couple more things. History and the present are catching up with me at this late hour.
Thanks for listing Notes in your biblio, I was excited to see it and am grateful for your acknowledgement. I note that those two long ago posts are not online. I’ve lost much of the first two years of emails I did, but I will see if I can find and upload those two. It’s nice to have a reason to do this work.
I must say I partially enjoy the doubt that is created by the absence of that writing of mine – I feel like part of your game, or as though you threw down a card and I have matched and raised you.
Congratulations on the review in the LA Times! Sharon Mizota is one of my favorite writers and I came away from her review with much to think about. Um, at the risk of provoking someone, I want to quote from the wall text that I saw, “For Artist Actualization Services work to succeed they knew it had to be documented in the contemporary art press.” Or close enough to that to pass muster. The copy of High Performance included in the exhibition provided your historical group with their documentary proof. I would propose to you that the LA Times review provides your work with this same cover.
Thanks a lot York, my fingers are crossed that we will hear from you.