Interviews

Wong Ping

Wong Ping, Dear, Can I Give You a Hand?, 2018, video (color, sound, 12 minutes) with custom-modified LED panels, fiberglass and polyester resin with motor and LEDs, and plastic wind-up toys with spray paint and metal foil, dimensions variable overall.

Gradient horizons, retro computer graphics, and emojis figure prominently in the animated “fables” of the Hong Kong–based artist Wong Ping, who made his New York debut this past February in the New Museum’s triennial, “Songs for Sabotage.” Shortly after, his video Dear, Can I Give You a Hand?, 2018—involving an elderly character navigating the death of his wife, the allure of his daughter-in-law, a severe case of diabetes, and an afterlife in a computer server cemetery’s porn site—premiered in “One Hand Clapping,” which is on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York until October 21, 2018. His work is also currently featured in group shows at the Sifang Art Museum in Nanjing, China, and at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art in Amstelveen, the Netherlands, until September 23, 2018.

MANY PEOPLE COMPARE THE GRAPHICS IN MY ANIMATIONS to 8-bit images or video games, but the flatness and simplified forms are mostly the results of my inability to draw. I taught myself animation—I would finish work early at my day job but still have to sit in the office for a few hours, so I would start up Illustrator and begin drawing with points and paths. The color scheme is just picked from the software. It comes very naturally.

Growing up, I didn’t watch a lot of movies or cartoons. I didn’t have much of an interest in art or design. From my undergraduate school days, I remember one class where the lecturer didn’t teach us anything but kept showing us music videos by people like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze. Those blew my mind. I felt the freedom possible in creating things. But at that time, I wasn’t interested in creating anything for myself. I went back to Hong Kong and looked for a job in design, but I couldn’t find one, so I took a job in a printing factory, and that’s when I started to learn how to use software. In Hong Kong, the industries are pretty practical and require those kinds of skills. After producing a portfolio, I found a job with a cartoon network.

When I have a deadline, or a project in mind, I sit down and scrap together maybe a month to three months of my diaries, connecting them to form a story. The fables I’m currently working on follow the format of a short story with some sort of conclusion, but they are also inspired by Aesop’s fables and the Grimms’ fairy tales. I don’t think those fables work anymore—the kindness, proper manners, and moral lessons. It’s right to teach children that way, but it’s not very practical. So I wanted to write fables based on my own experiences.

Trailer for Wong Ping, Fables 1, 2018

The stories in Wong Ping’s Fables 1, my work at the New Museum this past spring, are based on my own experiences. For instance, the thoughts that the character named Tree has are based on the thoughts I’ve had in the same situation: “Should I tell that pregnant woman on the bus that a cockroach is crawling out of her handbag? What would the consequences be? Perhaps I can convince the cockroach to leave her alone?” The chapter concludes, “To all righteous thinkers, perhaps it is worthwhile to spend more time considering how meaningless and powerless you are.” The second story, about Inspector Chicken, involves my observations on fame and bullying on the internet. The third fable, about Elephant and Turtle, came from talking with a friend who has monolids, eyelids without noticeable creases, and has been upset about that her whole life because they are not very popular in Hong Kong. So I tried to comfort her—some K-Pop stars look just like her. I went home and began to develop the story. The moral of that one is “Your time will come when vulgarity and bad taste become trends.”

For those fables, I posted a “content warning” on Facebook saying that this content was intended for children, and asking adults to please view them with children. I actually began that project because I wanted to write books for children. But usually, the audience is not in my mind. Back in the day, after I finished work and went home to work on my own videos, I’d just post them on Vimeo. I didn’t expect anything. After a while, I submitted one to what was then the only animation festival in Hong Kong, IFVA. That video—Under the Lion Crotch—won the award for best animation. I never thought that would happen. I started to work more efficiently because I was excited. But in terms of audience, I don’t know or care who’s watching. I still show my work in cinemas and film festivals, but I prefer art spaces. The festivals are packed with twenty or more films. I don’t think the audience can digest things very well, watching film after film.

Art spaces also allow me to do more with sculpture or installation. At the Guggenheim, behind the screen there are toy gold teeth, which are mentioned in the animation. Those kinds of insertions are like side stories about the characters. In the next few months, when I show the fables in London, I will be developing 3-D prints of objects extracted from the narratives. In the story about Tree, there’s a moment when he finds a photo on the internet of family members having sex. I’m making that photo into a print.

Some people think that my animations express things that are taboo, but I don’t see it that way. On the internet, nothing is taboo. The animations are not about curiosity, repression, or fear; they mostly express desires. I always show my work to my parents after I’m done. They laugh about it, and I don’t think they understand what I am doing or talking about. They’re still confused about how I can survive off this kind of thing.

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