Reviews & Articles
Wong Ping’s Sidekick
at 12:11pm on 21st May 2020
Screencap of Wong Ping’s Fables 2
Wong Ping's Fables 2 can be viewed here.
Seemingly, Wong Ping has caught the attention of the international art scene, but there has been little equivalent discussion about his art in his home city of Hong Kong. Or, perhaps, this is just my (mis-/pre-) conception of Wong Ping. But, Wong Ping really does have a bigger overseas presence. For example, at the time of writing (April 2020), he is currently participating in five exhibitions across Europe and the USA; whereas his latest solo exhibition in Hong Kong was three years ago, in 2017. If there had been no coronavirus outbreak, Hong Kong would not have had the opportunity to see Wong Ping’s recent work - now it is possible.
“Wong Ping Fable 2” was commissioned by the Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland and opened in late 2019. Despite the exhibition now being closed because of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, Wong Ping’s exhibition can be seen online – and, experienced in Hong Kong.
Superficially, “Wong Ping Fable 2” is a video story about a cow and three co-joined rabbits. A cow accidentally becomes rich by manufacturing jeans after spending years in jail on rioting charges. Meanwhile, the co-joined rabbit family lives below the poverty line and toils all day, but still cannot make a living, which leads to an ‘Easter incident’ causing a fatal family tragedy. The plot is ridiculous and succeeds to make you laugh and cry. Digging deeper, however, viewers find elements that trigger painful memories.
Like the story of the ‘rioting cow’, the protagonist’s experience may echo the recent Hong Kong social movement and the Anti-Extradition Bill Protests of 2019. The ‘rioting cow’ believed certain levels of violence is acceptable to achieve social progress. Hence, he killed a policeman in a protest, which costs him years of jail. The police inflict revenge during his detention in prison and he is sexually harassed by other prisoners. Wong Ping’s description of public-police relations and prison conditions is clear for Hong Kong viewers as they relate to recent personal experiences or news stories during the protests.
Wong Ping touches on social issues, however he does not go into details. Social elements appear as a seasoning to the main dish of moral hypocritical questioning. There is a line that especially captured my attention. Upon release, the ‘rioting cow’ started manufacturing pre-tattered jeans, to “allow buyers, in the era of peace and prosperity, to be able to possess a pair of jeans representing a certain attitude, without having to pay the price of rebel struggle”. Wong Ping does not comment on whether this motivation is good or bad: the animation purely narrates a fictional story and places the real-life situation as a background scenario. No judgment is made.
“The Modern Way To Shower” shares a similar approach to “Wong Ping Fable 2” in dealing with the Hong Kong public’s psychological state since the protests of 2019. This piece is not an animation, but a video of fictional characters. It features a man named “Wong Ping”, who pays for live sex services and requires a ‘protest theme’ shower with a photo reference of the police water cannon spraying blue liquid at journalists and pedestrians outside Kowloon Mosque in Tsim Sha Tsui. The police operation is transformed into a parody of a BDSM session with the notorious police brutality turned into hilarious sub-culture entertainment. It appears to be nothing serious, but his mockery and fun weakens the possible political allegory in some contexts. You may accuse Wong Ping of being disrespectful, but you cannot deny his way of handling the protests allows an easier and wider circulation.
Wong Ping’s approach could be an alternative way to talk about the traumatic experience of the protests, as the events of the past nine months were unimaginable to most people living in Hong Kong. Many are still suffering from nightmares and psychological trauma and others are in jail or have chosen exile. The shock of the protests has made it hard to digest, analyse or make comment. I believe Wong Ping, and many other local artists feel similarly. Furthermore, artists are under stress, as they were expected to inspire and lead, or at least bring some hope in those days of darkness. Indeed, they are as vulnerable as any ordinary people. Like you, they may not be ready to react to the shock. We are all forced to face this cruel reality. Instead of making artwork directly responding to the protests, Wong Ping tries to situate the fictional characters into his real-life context and let the story develop within a framework reflecting our time. Unlike the usual understanding of a fable, Wong Ping’s works do not preach to an audience, but suggests sharing similar experiences as the viewers. It seems like saying “hey, I don’t know the solution either, but you are not alone, here is someone like you”, which may serve as a kind of ‘togetherness’ and a way of walking with the viewer in such a traumatic time.
Viewing Wong Ping’s work recalls my reading of a recent interview with Justin Wong Chiu-Tat, a cartoonist and professor at the Academy of Visual Arts of HKBU, who has researched political cartoons and illustrations during the Anti-Extradition Bill protests in Hong Kong. Based on the data collected, he observes that most works are strongly emotional, “less analytical; even some traditional features of cartoons, humour, for example, have gone.” Certainly, cartoon and animation are close, but not completely interchangeable. What Wong Ping is trying to do seems similar as responding to Justin Wong’s concerns.
Passing Lennon Walls and scrolling Facebook on your mobile, direct, ‘straight hit’ works are everywhere. They are strong and highly responsive to the current situation, which we have discussed a lot during the time; but what about art, which we allow more time and effort to develop? Can we talk about this experience transcending time and space? Probably, the worldwide popularity of Wong Ping’s works proves a possible alternative. Sidekick may be relatively weak in strength, but its lightness and softness carry the topic across cultural borders. Straight hit and sidekick is perhaps similar to one of the key values of the protests: “fight on, each in their own way.”