Artist Talk Wong Ping 黃炳

Wong Ping graced us with his return to the exhibition at the Kunsthalle Basel last Sunday for an artist talk, just one week before the exceptional show closes. The show, which was also his first institutional solo show, attracted a very diverse demographic, even schools and kids with their parents came to see the colourful and humorous animations and installations of the Hong Kong artist.
I took notes of the talk of Wong Ping and Elena Filipovic, the direct of the Kunsthalle.

“Wong Ping’s Animation Lab” consists of two departments: the writing department and the visual department. Both are manned by only Wong himself. He produces every part of the work in a very intense production period: he starts with writing the story, then animates and records the voiceover, often with headphones under his bed cover. He mostly enjoys the thinking and writing part, as the animation is hard work. Outsourcing the tiring part was quickly not deemed suitable, as the result turned out too smooth and “too good for me, but I still needed to pay”. As much as it means suffering, walking through the endless process allows Wong to take many crucial decisions on the way, and gives him the freedom to include certain accidents as part of the work.

Wong Ping on his artistic language, people’s perception of him and on prejudice against artists
“Sex is not the subject, it’s just the language”. As Wong started animating, he simply had fun with the animated bodies having sex, he didn’t expect that there would be an issue for people, as sex is already everywhere. Just like the famous film director Wong Kar-Wai’s artistic language of choice is love stories, he doesn’t only talk about love, but about life in general. In the exact same way, Wong talks about life by using the artistic language of “sex”.
Has making sexually explicit animations, telling outspoken stories, and publishing them on the internet, changed Wong Ping’s social life?
As he says, people now expect him to be a weird and twisted person but do get disappointed. He can put all his evil thoughts (the perverted revenge fantasies in “Jungle of Desire”) and secrets in the animations, for no one will ever know what is real and what is made up. People will laugh at the animations, and no matter how dark the story behind is, people will never take it seriously.
The relationship with his parents has become more open, even though they don’t understand what he is doing (he doesn’t himself) and he doesn’t think they can see the humour.
What Wong can’t understand is that people do not expect artists to look and laugh at funny and dumb things, but to be sober, earnest and pensive.

Wong Ping wandering through the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin, Hong Kong, discussing his art.

Wong Ping on making installations
Each room of the exhibition has its sculptural dimension. The first room’s walls are covered with the plastic, golden-foiled toy teeth, complete with bulging eyes, that covered the floor of the Guggenheim Museum in New York last year in the group show “One Hand Clapping”. Here they are meticulously aligned along the white walls, the ceiling with its big windows letting in daylight. This ceiling made Wong Ping stare for some minutes in awe as he arrived, because a space like the one at Kunsthalle Basel is hard to find in Hong Kong. He especially requested not to turn the room into a dark chamber, but to let the visitors experience the fantastic natural lighting of this room. A huge LED-screen was therefore installed for the screening. The teeth accompany the visitor as he walks towards the screen on this long corridor – a feeling like walking through a pixelated world, or as if visiting the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin. “Dear, Can You Give me a Hand?” is shown in this room.
The next room has three riding toys that you can find on any children’s playground, except that these aren’t the usual duck or horse, but human dolls in rats costumes. Another sexual analogy?

“Jungle of Desire” is accompanied by a purple fluffy carpet on which masses of lucky cats wave their paws in order to welcome good fortune – only that the paws are penises. The film shown here talks about police officers in Hong Kong, that use their position to abuse prostitutes. A subject about which Wong Ping read over months in the local newspapers before he turned it into this work. One of the crucial sentences in the film is “my wife asked if this was shoplifting or raping”, as one of the wife’s customers (she prostitutes herself) refuses to pay for the services and even threatens to have her arrested. The cute beckoning cats are the perfect symbol for the thriving sex business in Hong Kong.
The installation in the next room is a pillar with a rotating head in the shape of a reverted heart, called “Boner”, three films are shown in this dark room, “Slow Sex” (2013), “Doggy Love” (2015) and “Who’s the Daddy” (2017). In one corner of the room, a white rabbit peeks.

The last room has a huge inflatable boat propped up against the wall. The boat has three long necks with rabbit heads. Each of them looks in a different direction, one being the one peeking into the “Boner” room. These are three of the characters of Wong Ping’s fables which are shown here. The visitor can have a seat on inflated pillows that make up the artist’s name.

Each of his installations is an expansion of a theme shown in the films, or are something he didn’t have time to talk about in the videos.

Wong Ping is quite new in the realm of installations. He used to have nightmares before opening his first non-virtual show in the Hong Kong museum, as he saw himself confronted by the curator with questions like why he wanted a black table for his TV set and not the white and “invisible” table that is common in the art world. By not having gone through the usual process of art school and therefore not assuming certain given standards, another interesting journey of discussion and of taking decisions on the way to a result, opened up for him. For sculptors it is normal to talk about “the use of space”, for Wong Ping it is a new concept that he is yet to conquer. Precisely because Wong Ping works his own way through every fundamental question already discussed many times in the art world before, his installations have a special force.

Wong Ping on exhibiting in the mainland of China
Once he had the opportunity to show his works in the mainland, but it happened under the big risk of the venue being closed down if discovered, because they didn’t hand the works to the censorship office.
Just for testing the great wall of censorship, Wong has submitted his work several times to the Chinese authorities but got rejected every time. He not only changed the titles to names like “Eat More Vegetables” (in order to pretend to have educational content), or split some of them into ten parts and snuck them into fitness videos, still, the only answer he ever received, within an amazingly short amount of time, was “NO!”. The result of these numerous trials is the astonishing realisation that all submitted content is being checked by manpower, not by a computer programme. Otherwise his “porn” which is basically only moving colour blocks, couldn’t have been detected so easily. Luckily, in Basel, Wong was able to exhibit without any censorship.

Wong Ping on the problem of aging and of the elderly in Hong Kong
A problem Wong often reflects about recently, is the problem of the elderly and of aging in Hong Kong.
About two years ago while cycling in a remote park, Wong came across an old man dressed in typical Hong Kong style, black trousers, white undershirt, carrying a bag full of old VHS cassettes with porn on them, which he dumped in a bin. This was one of the inspirations for his “Dear, can you give me a hand?”, as he started imagining what had led this sad man to throw out his beloved Japanese-imported porn, which he had clearly taken good care of over years.
Another influence were the homes for old people, his grandmother being one of the residents. The homes are usually dark and in bad condition, so bad that “if I were my granny, I would kill myself”.

In “Dear, can I give you a hand?”, Wong addresses multiple issues like expensive medication, loneliness and marginalisation, the lack of living space and the elderly being shifted off to care homes, all-encompassing digitalisation and the hypocrisy of our times. Again, Wong’s language is sex, but the message is not: the old man in the story pays so much for the medication of his ill wife, that he can’t afford them anything that would spark some joy in life, so as soon as his wife deceases, he buys himself a video player so he can watch all the assembled porn he had bought occasionally. Later, as his daughter-in-law moves in, he has to make some space, and at some point, there is no more space for the cassettes, so with a heavy heart, he decides to throw them away. Just at that moment a young lady watches him and reminds him to disassemble the cassettes in order to conform with the strict recycling regulations in Hong Kong. They sit down together and separate the plastic from the magnetic strip and talk about life and the world. It so happens that an ant trail passes by them and the queen of the ants starts biting his foreskin, which leads to an infection and brings the old man to the hospital. It turns out that the ant was the reincarnation of his deceased wife, who apparently was full of humour but also addicted to sex, so this was her way of visiting her husband, by kissing his penis. The story evolves further from here to more fantastic spheres, which all seem slightly exaggerated, but not too far-fetched after all.

Wong Ping on his next projects
The fables of his last room are a new direction of work for Wong, with no sexual content, no blood, nor phallus. While all the other works were somehow related to him, some of them half-autobiographical, others inspired by stories he read or heard, in the fables Wong is looking for stories to tell kids. He believes that the adult viewers will still see the dark parts in them, even without blood and genitals, and the kids will still laugh at other scenes than their parents. Wong, in fact, strives to make a long series of fables, just like the ones by the Grimm brothers or like Aesop’s stories. Other than in those classical fables the moral lessons at the end of a story don’t apply as well anymore nowadays, and it makes more sense to be honest to the kids and to tell them stories based on one’s own experience. Wong’s fables finish with lessons that you could easily drop under any online comment section: “Your time will come when vulgarity and bad taste become trends.” or “To all righteous thinkers: perhaps it is worthwhile to spend more time considering how meaningless and powerless you are.”

“Jungle of Desire” (2015)
“Who’s the Daddy” (2017)