Shotgun Review

Pacific Limn: The Secret Life of Harumi

By Joshua Kim April 22, 2013

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’s new work, Pacific Limn (2013), at the Kadist Art Foundation weaves together three narratives that comment on the hyper-capitalism of pan-Pacific cities, specifically, San Francisco. Each of the large works comprise moving images overlaid with giant text, all synced to a stealthy, uptempo jazz soundtrack. This is the first time the Seoul-based, pioneering web-art duo used Flash to animate video footage, and it imbues their text-based work with a realist cinematic sensibility. In The Secret Life of Harumi, a Japanese woman fantasizes escaping her job and living a temporary dream life in San Francisco. Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries (YHCHI) uses locally sourced virtual products such as Adobe Flash animation and Apple’s Monaco or Menlo typeface to create a whimsical and indirect commentary on the psychology of the working class in an information society within postindustrial imperialism.

For two months, YHCHI inhabited the economically polarized South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood, where a variety of socioeconomic realities overlap and coexist, from Facebook employees to the homeless. For The Secret Life of Harumi, YHCHI drew upon these overlapping class differences to narrate a story about the titular character, an elevator girl in a Tokyo skyscraper. Harumi opens the doors one day and sees a poster of iconic San Francisco. Much like the plot of Total Recall sans the memory implant, Harumi’s vacation to San Francisco leads her to take on an alternative life of a go-go dancer. None of this is explicit in the text, but the language implies a raunchy, turbulent lifestyle on the fringe.

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries. Pacific Limn: The Secret Life of Harumi, 2013; single-channel high-definition video; 25:13. Courtesy of the Artists and Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco.

The Flash animation is influenced by realist cinema and depicts the tediousness in commuting by air and ground combined with the kitsch of an “Asia-town” window display. Overlaid with text like femslash prose in a semi-coherent style of karaoke lyrics, the sensory cacophony disrupts a viewer’s thoughts and alludes to a desensitized boredom mixed with the desires of the alternative persona of a fictional Japanese woman.

The Secret Life of Harumi is a vignette of a waking and dreaming life in the pan-Pacific world but isn’t far away from escapist Philip K. Dick–like fantasies to be on the “other side” or on the “upper side,” regardless of the location. These fantasies are part and parcel of a capitalist economy, especially among the audience and participants of the arts and culture industries. YHCHI’s work suggests that when desires emerge and one’s reality divides, what’s left is a technological utopia, where anything is possible.


Pacific Limn: The Secret Life of Harumi is on view at Kadist Art Foundation, in San Francisco, through April 28, 2013. 

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