York Chang wants to know how we invent truth. In two solo exhibitions — The Signal and the Noise at the Vincent Price Art Museum and To Be Wrong With Infinite Precision at OCMA Expand — he disassembles the many layers of information that weave together political narratives. Pulling from his training as both an artist and lawyer, he zooms in on how information is designed to reinforce the biases its messengers hold. Chang’s work isn’t meant to surprise us with the revelation that truth might not objective. Instead, he takes as a given that “fake news” is the foundation of mass media. He explores the process of fabricating and disseminating news, rather than critique the news itself. He creates doctored images, redacts text, and mixes sound to invent ambiguous works that blur like a Rorschach test, allowing the viewer to interpret the messages as they see fit.
The two shows have wildly different presentations, which demonstrates the wide range within which truth can be investigated. To Be Wrong With Infinite Precision is presented in a traditional institutional setting. Most of the works are framed and separated into small themed rooms. In contrast, The Signal and the Noise is a one-gallery installation that is a chaotic mess of prints, with a radio set to mid-frequencies broadcasting almost incoherent talk shows and a piece made to resemble a balcony that’s crashed to the floor. To Be Wrong dwells on the ways misinformation is constructed and packaged as fact, while Signal illustrates the excess of news, both real and fake, that overloads our senses.
Consistent through both shows is Chang’s use of collage. He layers acrylic paint over news clippings and photographs pulled from microfiche. The archival sourcing shows that the creation of truth has historically been part of the news cycle, long before legacy publications like The National Enquirer printed Bigfoot sightings, or the cottage industry of conspiracy theorists who peddle paranoia on YouTube. In one work mounted at OCMA Expand, “The Signal and the Noise” (not to be confused with the exhibition), a smoke plume is spliced through the center of a cloudy landscape and a faceless man holding a slate board for what might be a mugshot. The flow of cloud to smoke creates a fictitious war zone, the faceless man perhaps a victim. In “The Pick-Up,” a color photograph of an African American boy standing in a baseball pitching stance is layered over a black and white photo of police in riot gear, ready to retaliate against an instigation that never actually happened.
The Signal and the Noise feels like a physical manifestation of the onslaught of information we get every day through newspapers, television, and social media. The types of works neatly framed at OCMA Expand are let loose, duplicated, and strewn about like a ransacked paper press. Each print, the size of standard newspaper but registered on Japanese kozo paper, has two images, each which takes up half a page, and a phrase that unites the two ideas. The papers are folded in half, and without picking them up, it’s difficult to discern which two images are linked together, giving a visitor the opportunity to mix and match the images on their own.
Chang often pairs them in complementary compositions, the poses echoing one another in symmetry or opposition. One sheet, labeled “adrift by shifts,” separates two depictions of huddled groups of people. One group leans to the left, turning over what appears to be a cargo container, and many wear hoods, hats, or scarves to obscure the lower halves of their faces. Two men on the far left look away at something unseen, as if they’re keeping watch. The other image shows male dancers stretching to their right, each with one arm overhead, using chairs as props. Their actions, situated in a studio, suggest freedom. Both groups move together, following the choreography of labor and leisure, respectively. By utilizing kozo paper, which is traditionally used for conserving and mending documents, Chang takes a literal approach to showing how he bridges two ideas by hand. It might be his intention to make the works so open to interpretation that his own voice is replaced by the viewer’s, reinforcing the theme that information is skewed to reaffirm its messenger’s beliefs. For those searching to better understand how information becomes distorted, Chang’s work may the first step to decoding the process.
The Signal and the Noise is on view at the Vincent Price Art Museum (1301 Cesar Chavez Avenue, Monterey Park) through July 20. To Be Wrong with Infinite Precision is on view at OCMA Expand (1661 W. Sunflower Ave, Santa Ana) through September 1 .