He looks into how culture, gender and identity are constructed, reproduced and circulated, as well as how it all feeds into the politics of representation. Though untrained as an actor, he has embarked on an artistic practice that is at once highly influenced by cinema and is in constant dialogue with measures of performativity, gender, and difference. Recent projects such as Me in Me (2013), Next Year / L’Année Prochaine / 明年 (2016), Ming Wong. Learn German With Petra Von Kant (2017), Bloody Marys–Song of the South Seas (2018), have become more interdisciplinary, incorporating performance and installation to flesh out his exploration of cultural artefacts from around the world.
Wong’s 2013, 3 channel video installation, Me in Me, tells the stories of three women, each living in a different era: ‘classical’, ‘modern’ and ‘virtual’. Of the recurring archetypes in Japanese cinema, the artist has singled out the figure of the idealized Japanese woman: she traverses temporal differences, often as a lonely soul displaced in a patriarchal context, seeking fulfillment and belonging, defining her notion of ‘self’, finding her will to survive. Parallel to these narrative ‘trailers’, we see documentary footage of the artist’s filmmaking process, revealing his attempts to embody and interpret clichéd aspects of Japanese culture.
With Next Year / L’Année Prochaine / 明年 (2016), Singaporean artist Ming Wong revisits an icon of the French New Wave: L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad, 1961) by Alain Resnais, written by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Next Year / L’Année Prochaine / 明年 is no remake of the original movie, but a variation on the unequivocal shift desired by Resnais. Ming Wong emphasizes and confirms the loss of temporal and spatial markers by engaging in a dialectical and iconographic collage.
In 2007 just before moving to Berlin, Wong made Lerne Deutsch mit Petra von Kant / Learn German with Petra von Kant (2017) in which he tried to learn to speak and act like a German by closely emulating the actress Margit Carstensen in the role of fashion designer Petra von Kant, suffering a mid-life-career-crisis in Rainer Werner Fassbinder´s 1972 film Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant).
For Bloody Marys – Song of the South Seas (2018), Wong explores the construction of identity by focusing on the song ‘Bali Ha’i’ from the musical South Pacific (1949), which was made into a feature film in 1958. In describing a tropical island, the song others the “exotic,” closely associating the island’s image with that of a Vietnamese siren, Bloody Mary, who seduces Western men with her musical voice. In its 10:35 minute duration, Wong’s video work establishes his own versions of Bloody Mary through various embodiments, alongside that of Juanita Hall, who became the first African American woman to receive a Tony for her performance in South Pacific‘s original stage production.
The role of Bloody Mary in Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific was immortalised by two African American actresses, who each played a central role in expanding opportunities for African Americans during the American musical theater’s golden age. In the 1958 film version, Juanita Hall reprised the stage role that she originated on Broadway but her singing voice is dubbed over by Muriel Smith who played Bloody Mary in the original London production.
In light of Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, Ming Wong’s debut lecture-performance Your Special Island, draws from the plot, lyrics and staged scenery of the same 1949 Broadway musical and 1958 Hollywood film South Pacific. Wong presents a timely decolonized perspective around race and identity, as well as in an era of new order in the militarization of the seas off the shores of the Asia-Pacific region.
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