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The Reason is You

Tears, saliva, menstrual blood, urine, etc., these so called the abject substances are what CHANG jia pays her attention to. In doing so, she makes witty, unique attacks against stereotypes such as identity, system, boundaries, geography, and/or order by offering voices to the moment of intimacy and taboos. This time, she does with leather (hide), blood and torturing instruments. It is a big mistake, however, if you imagined about the clichéd scenes from genre cinemas; it is an even bigger mistake if you thought the abjectedness of the materials she uses would tarnish aesthetic quality of her works.  Breaking unspeakable taboos as in (2007), confessing the sins as in (2011), and ‘Surviving Death’-like torture against her inner self, she goes head-to-head with things that are stuffy. CHANG jia of the year 2013 presents herself releasing energy that is denser, finer, wittier, deeper than she was in ‘Physical Requirements for an Artist’. Especially in this exhibition, among avatar like personas, we can find the most fascinating being that is ‘clear’, that can be referred to Susan Sontag who once said, “It allows us to experience brightness of the things within itself”. That is CHANG jia.
Objects made from the blood of a butchered cow and its documentary video
Hyoungjoo Youn(HJY): It is for the first time that I saw the blood of a cow except for a time I saw making seonji (clotted-blood from cows and pigs) soup. But first thing that caught my attention was the smell. Something fishy and foul strongly overwhelms my olfactory sense. Then, it is also familiar; I have known it all along. Is it your intention? Or, is it an unexpected outcome?  
CHANG jia (CJA): I cannot say point-blank that it was my intention. However, it is definitely a part of my work. The texture of skin from a living form and smell oozing out of it… decaying and dissipating process is part of the element of the work after all.
HJY: I understand that the piece was first shown in the exhibition held at Daejeon Museum of Art in 2012. Was the work created to fit in the theme of the show?
CJA: Though it was first shown in the exhibition, it was only a coincidence. I started making objects with blood around the year 2009.   
HJY: If it first started in 2009, was there a reason that you discontinued?   
CJA: I thought at the time that it was not right to use organic material that had died only a couple of hours ago and still had warmth to it. It was not a matter of choice that can be made by an artist, but by a human being, going against provisions of nature. The guilt continued to suffocate me even when I washed up my hands several times after finishing the work; it was still there imprinted in my head. Imagine how it would have shaken my life as an artist when it was supposed to be the theme of my next solo exhibition.
HJY: Then, now I have to wonder what the motive was to go back to the project that you once decided not to do and had shaken you in such degree.    
CJA: Even though a long time had passed, I had never put down the thought about the project. Meanwhile, I was asked to be in the exhibition and decided to take part because I thought that the piece might add one more layer to the exhibition theme. However, I had still not found the thing reflecting who I am as a whole, needless to say convincing others, and inevitably linked connecting the artist and her work. Of course the visual outcome of the work would be the same even without finding the link, but we all know there would be a difference. They are not the same.Around then I became ill and my doctor advised me to get hysterectomy. I was scared but I was certain it would be a solution to problems I was having with work. One day I was working my project, I felt cow blood was all over my body and realized that I was bleeding from the inside soaking my lower body. I was in a pool of sticky, warm, fishy smelling blood.This is how I faced with these damnest creatures…. Maybe it was a farewell to my womb in uncanny situation, different from what we women experience every month but as if a scene from an occult movie paired with horror and religious sacredness. There, I was not an artist who creates out of inspiration but an object that mediated an artwork with the world.
HJY: Let’s talk about the accompanying moving image. There are four men and women in white masks making bricks and other various shapes of toys while mixing blood and plaster. First, I would like to ask a question about the space. Where is it taking place? Is it a real lab?
CJA: Not a real lab, buta room insideKorea National University of Arts (KNUA) building. I put a lab table and staged it to look like one. KNUA is located in the building complex of former National Intelligence Service. I scouted a room for the video shooting because I wanted to create atmosphere of theunusual laboratory.
HJY: Were the researchers in the video actors? Were they choreographed? Or to what extend did they have a room for improvisation?
CJA: The purpose of the video was to document how the cow blood objects were made. So, they were not acting per say, but carrying out the job I explained them before the shooting.
HJY: What is the reason for deciding to make ‘bricks’, ‘figures’, and ‘toys’ with cow blood? Is there any symbolism behind?
CJA: Brick is a basic element that forms a building or structure, but never gets in to the center stage of attention despite its function, meaning, or value because it is everywhere. But it possesses certain regularity depending on its measure and ratio so that you can create imaginative structure with it. Same goes for ‘figures’ as it can institutionalize with its calculability. In this sense, bricks and solid figures may be referred to as instruments that standardize body in my art. ‘Toys’ represent the object for entertainment without any purpose. I wanted to emphasize on the action itself in which you take organic material as an object to play with.For me, transitioning process of cow blood that once was a vital substance to support one’s life into another object was a battle of conserving something spiritual for myself. Energy that is bound to extinct, discontinued life and the process of constitutive value and meaning were changing to something rotten and smelly… while I was going through this process of taboo, I was able to compress the energy that I could use to face the hardships that may come.  
HJY: Come to think of it, it has been more than a year since fabrication but the color and form of the objects are still amazingly vivid.  
CJA: It is hemoglobin that makes blood bright red. But blood starts to decay instantly and turns brown as soon as it is exposed to oxygen. It starts to smell bad, too. It was a long hard process to learn how to maintain the color. At the time, I asked for helped from professors from KAIST to get answers but even they had not done researches on such topic. I continued asking around, and to my surprise, the answer was very close to me and turned out to be what I already knew. I just did not realize that I knew until I finally got the chemical with help from researchers abroad.
HJY: Wow, what was that chemical!
CJA: This is all I can say for now. Magicians never reveal their trick.
Seared Landscape, Self-Portrait, Blazing Time, To Survive the Death  
HJY: It is quite impressive, the tattoos on your wrist and on your neck. Is it somehow related to your soldering work?
CJA: No direct relation, but they are test results of a project. Tattoo was supposed to be on my scalp and I wanted to videotape the change you see as my hair grows in stop motion. I wanted to see how hurting it can be and if I could tolerate the pain and so on. My head was already shaven, so I wanted to test first somewhere else on my body …. What you see on my neck is an image of a strand of hair. It functions to provoke others to touch it. It reflects people’s psyche wanting to pick on hair when they see on clothes or lying around the floor, but no one has made a move just yet (laugh). The tattoo of single thin line on the wrist came about from an idea that I got while I was frequenting to hospital. I realized that how horrifying and anxious it is to have lines drawn on your body. It signifies that you are abnormal and the line is the trace of it. I made a sort of aesthetic expression of it to overcome such emotion.
HJY: ‘Seared Landscape’ (2012) was the first of hide series. It was shown in the exhibition in 2012. Is there a momentum in choosing leather at the time?
CJA:The exhibition was organized as a part of artist-in-residence program that traveled cities in China including: Beijing, Kunming, Dali, and Lijang. It was sort of traveler's journal. I ran into scenes in Unnan where restaurants hang whole dried meat under their eaves. They were not the same as the meat you usually see here. Different sizes, and gross texture, you get shocked at their color. It is similar to ‘jamon’ you eat in Spain. Unnan people usually slice them and eat with vegetables. Unnan is one of the oldest cities of China which is renowned for its ancient cityscape and beautiful nature, and I wanted to include that grotesque scene of everyday lives to my work.Traditional paintings are the depiction of idealized scene of the nature, whereas my painting is a mixture of dried meat and beautiful sceneries that I physically stepped on.
HJY: You have two different ‘Self-Portraits’. If the year 2000’s portrays ‘Crazy Bitch’ wondering about the streets while high on drugs and showing bare breasts, painting from 2013 shows ‘Lady of Sorrow’, who cannot even wipe her tears off while lying on her side. Can you tell me what the biggest change was? Except for the face that you aged, please.
CJA: Change of energy, definitely. If I had a state of mind and enough energy to strip off clothes back then, future holds the time in which I must utilize energy that is bound to laps eventually. It is time to think about whether I want to divide and use the energy or bolt in on one thing. Energy is more than a physical force. The ‘Self-portrait’ on hide was made when I was struggling withnihilistic feeling against meaninglessness life. So you are right that I was not even able to wipe off my tears. I cannot say strong energy is better than weak, but spectrum of emotion has deepened and widen compared to the past.
HJY: ‘Blazing Time’ (2013) looks as if it is a depiction of a love affair because it shows hands meeting with another, getting burned then eventually depart. I wonder, if there is a narrative of your own that interconnects three hide works: ‘Self-portrait,’ ‘Blazing Time’ and ‘Pasta’?
CJA: Because they are depictions of fragmented moments from daily lives and are too small in numbers just yet to have concrete narrative. After accumulating more editions, the connection would become clearer.  
HJY: ‘To Survive the Death’ (2013) appears to be a picture diary. Maybe it is because texts and illustration are included. It does not matter if it describes trivial daily round of life, agonizes about something that cannot be revealed or is memorable moment, to me it seems a defense mechanism to avoid fears and horror that creep in. On the other hand, to speak of formal aspect of the work, it resembles parchment scroll from the middle age and notification with explanation of a verdict. What is the figure on the edge of the picture?
CJA: It is a giraffe. I replaced its strip pattern with military camouflage form. The reason that I have drawn only parts of it that is that I did not want people to easily notice. Just like the seared text in the center, I wanted it to be hidden. ‘To Survive the Death’ is not telling you how to survive but asking what life is.
Beautiful  Instruments  Series 2
HJY: You mentioned that each instrument was used for surgery at the end of 19th century in China and you purchased them at a bazaar in Unnan. It is quite unique how you make narrative through re-contextualizing found objects. Did you have any frame of reference for these? Or, did you make statement on the usage of these torturing devices based only on your pure imagination?
CJA: When I had the exhibition , I admit that I had done extensive research on torturing instruments from different eras. Then, what inspired me more than case studies was a brief moment at dentist’s office when I saw dental instruments while I was lying on a chair after I was anesthetized. I also enjoy works by Czech animation artist, Jan Svankmajer, who is now over 80 years old. He draws upon his imagination from fearful moments he experienced when he was young. I think I was the same in a way. You may have noticed when you look at the instruments, the shapes are quite simple. So if you know even a little about your body, it is easy to imagine and write texts like it. Only thing is the morale judgment that hinders you from writing it. And that is the issue here.
HJY: Between two series, ‘Beautiful Instrument Series 1’ which you designed, decorated by yourself and ‘Beautiful Instrument Series 2’ that is composed of found objects, which strikesyou asmore beautiful and alluring than the other?
CJA: There is no way I can prioritize the two using criteria of ‘what is beautiful’ that is taken for actions out of visual, moral, social context. In making ‘Beautiful Instruments Series 1’ I was only concerned about the beauty and invoking aesthetical imagination while ‘Beautiful Instruments Series 2’ needs the viewers’ reasoning of themselves with reference to torture. There are differences between two works; one includes detailed expression that was possible by technique and the other represents meticulousness of medical and scientific knowledge when dealing with bodies.This series is intended to layer multiple meanings and present the compulsion that is created by putting things that are seemingly far from pain on the border.
HJY: There is a saying “sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant.’ It means that no matter what the thoughts are, even if it seems questionable compared to social and moral standards, it is best to bring out to the light to examine what is right or wrong. In that context, I think questions that you raise are meaningful. So here goes my last question, what is the message that you want to come across through your seventh solo show, ?
CJA: I enjoy the process of communicating and creating discourse through my work as it is the best way to show who I am. Some people see my art as a strategy to take lasciviousandsuggestive topics in order to become a hit,and others placemeon the Feminist genealogy. However, I am not interested in either categorization or being filtered through. The ‘hide, blood and torturing instruments’ in commercial gallery itself defies such categorization. I would like to reaffirm the area of my interest and its context that passes through my work while being curious about the rendezvous of people’s reaction and less obvious whimsy.
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