Henry Chang is a Las Vegas based sculptor who mostly works with stainless steel. A circuitous journey through different educational and vocational environments led him to what he’s doing now, constructing one-off custom art cars.
Chang’s educational background is in computer science and music (classical and jazz piano). After college at UC San Diego, he drifted into doing architectural CAD work, then on a whim he built his own home on the edge of a cliff. The buildable area of the lot was wide and shallow (only 8 feet wide on the shallowest end), so naturally the aesthetic of the building was modernist. When it was finished, Chang was unhappy with the retail furniture choices available, the only things he could find locally which “fit” the design ethos were high end Italian and very expensive. So, to furnish the home, Chang decided to fabricate his own designs.
The first pieces of stainless steel furniture were very well received and Chang was encouraged to go into business fabricating for others. He did so and spent the next few years going to trade shows (International Contemporary Furniture Fair, Chicago Design Show) and working for clients on the East Coast.
During this time he was also playing piano at restaurants and weddings and such as a side profession. He did not enjoy electronic dance music on a stereo and it wasn’t until he experienced it over a big, powerful club system that he understood how the ultra-produced low end frequencies caused people to “feel” the beat and compel some of them to want to dance. A chance attendance at a electronic dance music rave event led him to think, “what if this music were performed by musicians rather than DJs?” and he was inspired to attempt to create a live EDM band. The problem with such an endeavor is there aren’t instruments available (outside of keyboards and some minimalist drumsets) for a more theatrical presentation of EDM so Chang and his friend Erik Stauber set out utilize Chang’s fabrication skills and Stauber’s engineering skills to create custom instruments which would lend themselves to a theatrical presentation of the music.
Five years later, in 2004, their band Soul in the Machine debuted and they spent the subsequent five years playing gigs, attending events like Burning Man (with the band) and fabricating new, upgraded versions of their instruments (a drumwall, laserharp, marimba, modulation levers). The instruments were all sculptural, they all lit up so the audience could see what was happening and they all required that the operator possess real musicianship. Much of the band’s gigs were from corporate gigs (most of the biggest tech companies in the world) and the financial crisis in 2009 caused a large percentage of this business to dry up.
Stauber and Chang moved from San Diego to Oakland, California and since Stauber was going through some personal life changes (divorce, etc.), development on band instruments ground to a halt. The artist in Chang still moved him to fabricate, so he decided upon building an art car to take to the Burning Man Festival.
Chang’s first attempt was a Musketeer landscape cart with some very fancy tubular stainless steel bodywork bolted to it. The bodywork was beautiful, but the cart was not so Chang fabricated little steel structure and stretched fabric over it to hide the body of the cart. He had not been to Burning Man since 2005, and when he took the car to Black Rock City in 2011 he didn’t realize the Art Car genre had changed substantially since he had last attended. There was a few orders of magnitude more money, more artists and more energy going into the genre and although the bodywork on the Chang’s car was intricate, he felt the base vehicle and the token effort to hide it was not up to the level of some of the grander creations at Black Rock City. After returning to Oakland, he moved to Vegas and scrapped the cart, leaving it with some friends back in Oakland. The bodywork was saved and Chang’s solution to a new car was to address the base vehicle issue by not starting with any base vehicle whatstover. He was going to build a frame and chassis from scratch, make each piece sculptural, make them beautiful, and expose them rather than hide them.
The result of this effort was Mr. Fusion, which Chang took to Black Rock City in 2012. The car ended up being received at a level beyond anything Chang had imagined. A year later, Clear Channel (now iHeartRadio) licensed the vehicle. It’s now the iHeartCar and the fortuitous string of events has enabled Chang to build several more vehicles, all from the ground up, and explore the wide open genre even further.
Chang is grateful for what has transpired. He enjoys building a “sculpture which you can drive” and he believes this ability to drive the sculpture leads one to be able to enjoy a range of experiences which simply isn’t possible with traditional sculpture.
He says, “we live in a car crazy culture and it’s wonderful to be able to contribute to this mass culture in such a way that the bulk of people “get it”, yet I can still maintain my creative individuality. I think I may be fabricating cars for a long, long time. I love it.”
The tools which Chang utilizes are TIG welders, CNC plasma notchers, English wheel, hydraulic roll bender, CAD and the usual cutting and grinding tools.