The team is a partnership between Chan Hangfeng and Ben Houge. They hail from Shanghai and Seattle, respectively, but currently both are based in Shanghai. They met at some point four or so years ago that neither of them can exactly recall, but out of which grew a mutual affection and lasting friendship. This is their first experience working together and for the purpose of this project the work load has been divided between them with Chen Hangfeng taking charge of the visuals and Ben Houge being responsible for sound, their previous personal projects have crossed into these opposite spheres. Both have worked with visuals and sound, in installations, moving images and performance pieces.
Chen Hangfeng was trained as a painter and graphic designer and in recent years has worked as a graphic artist. It is his work with what he titles Logomania that has won him the widest acclaim so far. The concept is simple: it takes the logos of familiar brands, both foreign and domestic, and weaves them into a surprising array of intricate patterns that are as humorous as they are beautiful. As designs they sit between art and functional objects, blurring the boundaries between fields, and refusing strict categorization. Chen Hangfeng came to the idea because he grew up at a time when there was little brand consciousness in China “when there were so few brands to choose from. Two decades on, and a multitude of brands has penetrated the Chinese consciousness…
As a subtle yet succinct commentary on this phenomenon, the patterns that Chen Hangfeng twists out of visual montages of brand logos are applied to a multitude of familiar forms: carpets, light shades, wallpaper, Chinese screens, and temporary tattoos. Here, the contemporary logos meet traditional crafts, such as carpet-making, embroidery and woodblock printing. The applications are endless. Logomania is an idea that is brilliantly simple.
As mentioned earlier, Logomania also takes life through installation and video: one example is a fabulous Christmas tree complete with a mass of wrapped “presents”, each box actually containing a video screen showing the factories where so much Christmas fare is manufactured. Thus it is very “today” in terms of Chinese culture and society, as he suggests in the visuals brought to music.
Conversely, classically trained musician Ben Houge works primarily with sound. A quick run through his resume reveals an extremely broad range of musical interests and creative expression. Although his main focus through the last twelve years has been videogame audio (from 2004-8 he worked at Ubisoft in Shanghai on a strategy game for Xbox 3 60 and PS3 called Tom Clancy’s EndWar) he has worked on a variety of projects. Some, such as the soundtrack for the role-playing game Arcanum (2001), which was composed for a string quartet and recorded with members of the Seattle Symphony, are more conventional. Others, like his work with technology to get sound and music to respond intuitively to AI (which means artificial intelligent???), animations, game design rules, information coming over a network, and real-time visuals, are much more experimental. The latter experiences in particular came in very useful for conceiving the soundtrack for the team’s Music project they titled Kaleidoscope.
…and their Real-Timely Trademark Trip
Kaleidoscope is a total environment of moving images and synchronized sound that pays homage to the contemporary urban experience in China today. In fact, the immediate environment surrounding the Today Art Museum is the subject here with images being relayed in real time from the outside to the inside of the museum space via a series of CCTV cameras. So, if you post a friend outside strolling around and then run to the work you’ll see them starring in Kaleidoscope! But spotting them will be an art in itself for, true to the nature of a kaleidoscope, the filmed sequences will be rotating around the walls; hence the psychedelic effect. And to achieve the full metamorphosis of reality into dazzling patterns, Chen Hangfeng uses a filter over the camera lens. And yes, that’s right, it is a filter in the form of an intricate web of brand logos woven into a veritable led lattice for what might also be describe as a modern stained-glass window.
As the logos are—effectively—familiar symbols of the social façade that have been visually sampled, so Ben Houge samples familiar sounds of the contemporary social landscape for his audio composition. All of this is done in real time, too, just like the film images.
Visitors get to hang out in the work itself, which takes the form of a specially constructed six-sided room that takes you into a psychedelic time warp against a surreal, ever-changing wallpaper which turns the real world into an illusion. Here, in the nicely designed setting that is the interior of an art museum and of a carefully conceived art work, anything can seem beautiful—in the same manner that artists have used trash to make sculptures, including Chen Hangfeng, who has been known to sculpt chandeliers out of garbage refuse.
As the colourful, constantly-changing, and fully immersive experience of Kaleidoscope unfolds, Kaleidoscope Music adds a vibrant, ear-catching jumble of sound to the medley. Audio signals from two microphones mounted near Chen Hangfeng’s kaleidoscopes are manipulated over a pulsing musical backdrop, supporting a sense of spatial dislocation and transformation. The system will analyze the video signal from each camera, so that the music matches the visual stream’s large-scale rhythm and intensity. The music is generated by a computer in real-time (using a custom program written in Max/MSP), drawing on techniques that Ben Houge earlier developed to deploy and structure non-linear sound in videogames. This allows the sound to continually change and evolve without looping. Real-time audio manipulation reflects the ability of a kaleidoscope to mirror and fracture a simple idea into new patterns that endlessly surprise and delight.
Q1: Reality and art. Do you think people want reality…that they prefer it “enhanced”? Does that make it more like fantasy or burying one’s head in the sand?
I think both are important, art always comes from reality, but above reality, there is no art if there is no reality. Life will become boring without art. I hope art can improve upon reality.
Q2: How important is technology to sound and vision today?
It depends what kind of sound and vision who is making it. The use of technology can be a form of art, and it can be a nice way of approach ideas; at the same time, it could block or destroy these ideas.
Q3: Does the economic down turn change the meaning of the brand logos? Do you think museums are the only place we will be seeing them in the coming years / decade?
I hope it will change the meaning of brand logos in peoples’ minds. I think the value of those brands is based on ‘education’; the economic downturn acts as a education which make people afraid of spending money! The economy exacts a heavy cost on both humans (in the form of exploitation) and natural resources. Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses” more than 150 years ago. I like to ask, whether the new opiate of the masses is the economy? Regardless I feel it is important for society to break its addiction to these drugs.
I believe that the current economic system is not sustainable. We better find another solution ASAP. I hope that that the whole phenomenon of brand logos will soon be only found in the museums.