York Chang “The Winners” at Greene Exhibitions
Congratulations on your show at Rob’s (Greene Exhibitions). I visited Tuesday with Olga and with a mutual friend, David Bell.
I recognize some elements of the show, in fact I believe we talked about this incident of capture and hostage-taking by Gustavo Carnevales at the time of our LACE blog project. I also think that you documented the mysterious and dramatic disappearance of Carnevales in the recent Parkfied Review #2 (for which I am and David is hugely grateful).
I am interested in (what I take to be a) change of voice for you in this exhibition, perhaps I could say from that of author (albeit an unacknowledged one) to artist (as one whose presence as the maker of the work, or the fiction, is acknowledged all the way through the project). To be blunt, you have come out into the open.
It’s funny to me that I respond quite differently to this work than I did to the High Performance project, or to the Visceral Realist project of several years ago. I attribute these new works to you in a direct and physical way. In the past, even knowing that you “made” the films and photos and documentary evidence shows, I had a strange distance; you might have been a scholar, very knowledgeable of the facts that you were presenting, yet equally amazed by them as me.
After several years of (so to speak) dancing with your audience to music of an unseen orchestra, it seems to me that we can now see the musical score, the conductor, and the players. I think of your projects as archival and literary and cinematic, I think that now the body, your body has entered the scene, and I like it.
I am going too far in the direction of a binary comparison, so I’ll stop and focus on the work.
I saw the drawings, 9 Proposals for a Takeover, after seeing the other work. Seeing these super-expressive drawings, I wanted to start all over and look again with them in my mind. Wow, York, I love these. I feel restraint and passion in them, I see the suggestion of violence in the heavy black; and I think of classified documents that purport to protect, yet harm by their silence.
I mentioned to my companions, David and Olga, that these drawings remind me of the backgrounds in Francis Bacon paintings, they are such psychologically charged architectures.
After being absent from the body of the work, here your hand is very much present. You smudge the charcoal and it looks joyous as one who is rolling in mud, and finding pleasure there. This also looks angry, and it also looks careful and it serves as what they call in crime novels “a dead giveaway” for the actions of the criminal, Gustavo Cabrales, as well as for the artist, York Chang.
Maybe we can engage about the work, as we have in the past, for Notes on Looking? I’d like our long term conversation to evolve together as we each do in our separate practices.
Best to you and Ruby,
Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out the show. You have been so consistently engaged over the years at my shows and through projects on Notes on Looking, which makes your observations really informed and well-taken- it makes me happy that things that matter to me across the arc of multiple projects are legible to you- I do see them as all part of the progression of a larger meta-project. I would love to continue the discussion with you about the work, it’s always pleasurable and productive for me.
As you suggest, my relationship to the fictive voice has shifted towards a more direct engagement with the formal aesthetic questions. In the earlier projects you mentioned, I invented curatorial constructs to question conventions of authorship, credibility, and authority, but also to explore substantive subjects I was interested in from a safe intellectual distance. With the Search for the Visceral Realists projects, I manufactured an entire fictional post-Situationist artist movement from the late 1990’s to explore the relationship between political violence and the avant-garde. In Second Life at 18th Street, I inserted fabricated histories into the pages of the seminal performance art magazine HIGH PERFORMANCE to subvert the relationship between memory and documentation in the field of performance art.
But thinking about what you are saying about your experience with these projects, I can see how the invented nature of the constructs creates a distance not just for me, but for the viewer. To the extent that this distance can be interesting, it also interferes with the engagement with the work- the fiction becomes the point, rather than the subject you are exploring. Recently, I’ve been looking at artists like Walid Raad and Pierre Huyghe, who play with fiction, not so much for the purposes of deconstructing truth, but in order to project those moments which take place before our defenses are up, when our imaginations are most open to considering an alternate past and present, and to seeing the possibility of an alternate future.
In this project the Winners, I do feel like its a real progression for me in my practice, and I’m really proud of this show. Rob Greene and Peter Wu (another artist at Greene Exhibitions) have been great collaborators, and presenting the project in a new experimental space in Culver City felt like I was kind of given a blank slate to try new things. I’m still playing with fictive histories, but I’m doing it openly, which changes the dynamic- the stakes are different, the fiction is more source material and starting point than the final outcome, and the experience of the objects and images are hopefully less obfuscated by misdirection, camouflage, and aporia.
I feel like your voice in Notes on Looking, in many ways, has tracked a similar trajectory- your eyewitness accounts of cultural events has refined itself, moving away from so much of the mystification we see in art-writing, towards honing in on the direct observations which tell you something about the essential underlying nature of the work- to show the seams of construction. Even the new additions to the site such as the artist conversations (with Michael Shaw) are leading audiences towards more frank discussions on the thinking behind the making.
The subjectivity inherent in my role as an artist is already so deeply enmeshed with cultural fictions- there’s plenty of fictive potential inside my own true obsessions without needing to fabricate new ones. In developing the Winners, I’ve been thinking about memory as a social construct, specifically how both personal and institutional memory is shaped and distorted by those in positions of power. One way to think about this exhibition is about how memories of alternate histories can be hidden, or suggested and then implanted in the public consciousness through an artist’s cultural production.
I’m gratified to read your sense of the literary and the cinematic character of my projects- it is a challenging set of sensibilities to communicate in the brief, fleeting moments an artist is given by purveyors of visual art. My own memories have been entirely influenced by the works of Jorge Luis Borges, and transformed by the Chilean author Roberto Bolano. After reading Bolano’s the Savage Detectives- I’ve been on a mission to reverse-engineer and infuse Bolano’s aesthetic into my projects- the grandiose gestures of the strident artist or the radical political insurgent, the fractured narratives of unreliable narrators and inaccurate histories, and the poetics of noir caught between the literary and the low-brow. I’m also influenced by the cinematic- particularly the procedural, whether its a crime procedural like the Wire, or a journalism procedural like All the President’s Men. Procedurals are essentially technically-rich and detailed studies of subcultures, of people deeply immersed within a given context. I can’t get enough of them.
In fact. the lithograph in the exhibition, published with El Nopal Press specifically for the Winners, represents a kind of a direct pairing of these two obsessions- the literary and the procedural. The lithograph, entitled Uqbar (After Borges), is a diptych of what appear to be two images of newspaper microfiche of the front page of the Los Angeles Times from the day of March 10, 1988. At first glance the two panels appear identical, with the same fuzzy analog scuff marks from the microfiche film, and the same historical patina that comes from the distantly familiar names and events in headlines of a recently-bygone era. The patient viewer is transformed into the forensic investigator who detects the discrepancy in the archive- on one front page panel, the headline tells of a man with a gun protesting an unjust conviction, and being shot in a Van Nuys courtroom . On the other identical panel, in the exact same position with the same word count, the headline tells a different story- an artist confines five bankers in radical protest of their financial malfeasance, and is arrested. Both stories are stranger than fiction, but which one is the real history? The piece is titled after a 1940 Borges short story in which a narrator stumbles across a detailed entry on the country of Uqbar in a copy of his encyclopedia, describing the country’s history, culture and geography. But after an extensive search, the narrator can find no other mention of this country in any other enclyclopedias, maps, or atlases- the missing country, the missing story. http://en.wikipedia.org/
This question of forged and redacted histories became a starting point for the rest of the works in the show, but from there, I push these histories towards the abstract and the poetic, which is ultimately a question of form. I’ve been looking for answers in the visual vocabulary of post-minimalism, in deceptively simple, reductivist strategies, i.e. the collage or photograph that can be transformed with a single conceptual move.
Did you have a chance to spend a moment with this surveillance video piece in the show? I was exploring further that unsettling sensibility the concept behind the Uqbar lithograph, these haunted voids of information. The title of the piece, Exterminating Artist, is a riff on Luis Bunuel’s surrealist film Exterminating Angel, in which rich socialites find themselves unable to leave a room and eventually descend into madness. The video presents itself as surveillance footage of the boardroom in which the artist held the bankers captive, This boardroom is empty, however, except for “glitches” in the footage that create a sense of event and time in the surveilled space. Again, the work takes a fictional event as a starting point, but the inquiry again goes beyond the history, and into aesthetic questions of what the noir, the literary, and the procedural look like. And of course, what it looks like to be out in the open.
For past exchanges between York Chang and Geoff Tuck, please see: