Wong Ping’s animations offer us a glimpse into a strange inner world – a world of hapless and depraved characters caught in a series of surreal plots.
New Museum show “Wong Ping: Your Quiet Neighbor”, featuring six of this Hong Kong artist’s compelling animation work that has started appearing in prestigious exhibitions around the world after quitting a boring TV post-production job and founding Wong Ping Animation Lab in 2014.
With his deliberately vulgar creations, Wong seems determined to reject the polished world of high-end TV. Its characters are constructed from basic geometric forms. Scenes are rendered in cyan, red, and linden green, which will bring up memories of dial-up “web browsing” (if you have it, and I have it). But even if they seem childishly simple, the videos are very adult. Adult because they’re obscene. Adults because they are fed up with the world.
In these animations, destiny washes people into the sea and spit them back to the shore. Quick plot reversals can make you feel like you’re watching something between a stoned movie and a swirl of pixelated cherries on a video slot machine screen.
The main character in the movie “Wong Ping’s Fables 2” (2019) is an anthropomorphic bull who accidentally rams a policeman into a pole at a political protest and is then sexually assaulted in prison. He also uses his time behind bars to pursue a doctorate. dissertation on the depravity of slow-cooked beef. He then gets out of jail and sells his jeans, penniless, out of his body. Surprise! They go for good money. Ripped jeans look stylish. She soon builds a fashion empire and becomes one of Hong Kong’s richest pets. And this is not even the first half of the plot.
Wong’s show deserves attention – and not just because things are funny. NC-17 ingredients are hard to miss and can be hard to stomach for some. Still, fixing the shock values misses the point. With their cunning humor, the works are ultimately tragicomedy. They’re filled with characters trapped by quirks and perversions, and then battered by forces beyond their control.
The gloomy voiceovers of the videos do a lot to set the tone. Wong’s first-person male narrators return to the lonely, watchful detectives of Hong Kong’s neo-noir films; for them it was just one day at work of all kinds of shocks and atrocities. Even open desperation is expressed in stoicism. In “The Forest of Desire” (2015), the narrator, an impotent and underpaid animator, watches his wife transform into a sex worker who receives clients at home. It tries to stay out and make room for it, but Hong Kong’s public spaces don’t cooperate. They are full of unfriendly architecture (“spiky things”) and people waking someone sleeping in the park. So the main character hides in a closet at home while his wife’s customers come by.
Wong’s videos often fascinate and disgust women. There is a childish focus on body parts: breasts, varicose veins, feet. This may not sound like high priority viewing to you, especially since #MeToo has renewed the disproportionate airtime and shelf space scrutiny given to straight male desire stories. If I add that they are, maybe you will be more inclined to see these works. It’s not about the power imbalance between a lecherous man and a helpless woman. If there is an imbalance of power here, it is between people and the realities that oppress them. Stagnant wages. Bad law enforcement. Solitude of screens and devices.
Political concerns hover on the edge of the show like a ghost barely acknowledged by the living. In “An Emo Nose” (2015), a man’s nose gets longer when he senses “negative energy.” To appease her, the man stops talking politics and sticks his nose in sex and ice cream. (In this scene, the petals of the flower on the Hong Kong flag wither and fall.) Elsewhere, the main character in “Who’s the Father” (2017) mixes a dating app with a person to help him find like-minded political friends.
Wong’s videos often reminded me of artist Mike Kelley and his friends with the miserable work that took the art world by storm a few decades ago. kelley, who died in 2012Whether it was showcasing torn plush animals or showing off a work of art by serial killer John Wayne Gacy on a project about artists and guilt, he knew how to walk the line between sadness and provocation. Of course, Kelley’s art is often set against the background of American working-class suburbs, while Wong’s work is set in urban Hong Kong. But just as Kelley has made a big impact, Wong seems to embrace his own sense of inadequacy and immorality to achieve something greater: how sociopolitical realities fuel the frustrations of non-male grown men.
Even the exhibition design for “Wong Ping: Silent Neighbor” seems to partially channel Kelley, who is fond of shabby fabrics, knitted afghans, and plush toys. Organized by Gary Carrion-Murayari with Francesca Altamura, a former assistant curator, the main room of Wong’s show features a central mound of beanbag chairs and a pile-carpeted platform. This is where visitors can sit back while watching Wong’s animations on the surrounding screens.
There’s no illusion of cool sterility in this seating arrangement, which feels important given how often Wong’s animations talk about hygiene, the body, and public space. Take the microbe-conscious city dwellers in “The Other Side” (2015), who use only their lower bodies to push the turnstiles. They would look at the pouf seats with some hesitation. You too can be a visitor to this show. If you stand, you will have to allow the discomfort of your posture to compound the discomfort caused by these works of art. Or you’ll go for it: you crouch on a soft piece of cloth and agree to plunge whole-body into Wong Ping’s strange lowered world.
Wong Ping: Your Quiet Neighbor
At the New Museum, 235 Bowery, Manhattan, until October 3. (212) 219-1222, yenimuze.org.