Ming Wong

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Ming Wong
Photo: Singapore Art Museum. Courtesy: Ming Wong

Article

Whodunnit?

Ming Wong is a multimedia artist living in Berlin and Singapore. In his video installations, he is renowned for his reenactments of scenes from classic movies. His installation, "Life of Imitation,” was Singapore’s official entry at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009.
When Ming Wong received a one year artist’s residency at Berlin’s Künstlerhaus Bethanien in 2007, he prepared for it in a wholly unique way. He reenacted, on video, a pivotal scene from Fassbinder´s film, "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.” Entitled “Learn German with Petra von Kant," Ming Wong donned a long mint green gown, a blonde wig, silver pumps, and held a bottle of gin in his hand with a telephone at his feet. He was impersonating Margaret Carsten, who played a fashion designer in Fassbinder’s film, but he did it with a foreign accent, adding another artificial layer to the already highly stylized scene. Ming Wong not only studied the role, but also the German language by imitation, focusing solely on rhythms, intonations and facial expressions.

This topic is a theme running through all of Ming Wong´s works. He borrows cultural identities from classic films—from Visconti´s "Life and Death in Venice,",Wong Kar-Wai´s "Mood for Love," or Pasolini´s "Teorema" - and parodies them. His attempt to reenact the scenes is done in all seriousness. In doing this, he re-appropriates cultural codes from the point of view of the outsider, and then turns it back onto the spectator. For example, when Ming Wong moved to Berlin in 2007, a debate was raging throughout Germany about migrants’ purported lack of German language skills, which he one-upped and undermined through his idiosyncratic German-language courses. Fassbinder´s film is an important work of German art and what Ming Wong learns, in particular, is how to emphatically say the words: "whore" and "I hate you."

Wong proceeded similarly in 2001, when the British Art Council issued a census questionnaire about the UK’s cultural diversity. Wong had just completed his art studies at the Slade School in London. On the questionnaire, he crossed not just one, but all of the listed ethnic groups. He then developed the film project "Whodunnit?" in which the players initially speak with exaggerated accents in different languages—at the end everybody speaks in proper standard British English.

Born 1971 in Singapore, as a child Ming Wong spoke Cantonese with his family, at school English, and his own blend of Singapore-English with his friends; otherwise called "Singlish." Wong picked up a bit of Malaysian on the streets. No wonder languages would later play a large role in his life and work. His obsession to reenact classic films almost always has to do with speaking a foreign language in the film. In "Four Malay Stories," Wong reenacts scenes from Malaysian films of the 50s and 60s, the forgotten golden age of the local film industry. He plays all 16 male and female roles. "Four Malay Stories" reminds us not only what Singapore had lost through the loss of its film industry in terms of its cultural potential. It also tells of the loss of language. On four monitors individual scenes are repeated up to five times – until Wong is almost able to reproduce the foreign language Malaysian correctly.

In "Devo partire, Domani, " which was created for the Napoli Teatro Festival Italia in cooperation with the Singapore Biennale in 2010, Wong shows how a stranger enters a bourgeois Italian family’s life and seduces all of the members - the father, mother, daughter, son and maid. In the installation, inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini´s "Teorema" (1968), Wong plays all of the roles. The seducer, who disappears mysteriously, and the seduced. In each image, we encounter a masked stranger, always the same one, always another self. All the characters diverse desires, hopes, dreams, and diverse social positions – are exposed in Ming Wong´s face; he generously lends his body to all the characters. He puts on make-up for them, wigs, changes costumes and imitates languages, intonations, facial expressions and movements. He juggles with age and gender, with clichés and stereotypes.

In his new project, he takes the game of mimicry to a whole new level. Together with his mother May, Ming Wong reenacts the life of the Turkish singer and transgender queen Bülent Ersoy in four karaoke videos.
Author: Michaela Schlagenwerth

Works

Exhibitions/Performances

Established,
2011
------2011------ Biji Diva! In Transit Festival, House of World Cultures, Berlin; Devo partire. Domani. Solo exhibition. Villa Romana, Florence; Singapore Biennale. Singapore; LIFE OF IMITATION. Solo exhibition. CAST Gallery, Tasmania, (part of 10 Days on the Island Festival) ; Ming Wong’s CYCLORAMA. Solo exhibition. Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou Echt? based on a true story. Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, Stuttgart Ming Wong: Life of Imitation. Solo exhibition. Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Washington ------2010------- Unspooling-Artists & Cinema. Cornerhouse, Manchester Gruppenbild. Solo exhibition. Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin, Germany; Essential Cinema Toronto International Film Festival, Canada; Gwangju Biennale. Gwangju, Korea; AH Oh. Galeri NON, Istanbul; Life & Death in Venice. Solo exhibition. Studio Tresorio, Naples, Italy; Napoli Teatro Festival. Solo exhibition. PAN, Naples, Italy; Sydney Biennale. Solo exhibition. Cockatoo Island, Sydney, Australia; The Fate of Irony. Solo exhibition. KAI10, Düsseldorf, Germany; Life of Imitation. Solo exhibition. Singapore Art Museum; Life & Death in Venice. Solo exhibition. Hermes Gallery, Singapore; Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions. Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Japan; Life & Death in Venice* Gallery Invaliden1, Berlin; ------2009------- Life of Imitation. Solo exhibition. Singapore Pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennale, Italy; Playing Homage. Vancouver Contemporary Art Gallery, Canada; The Simple Art of Parody. Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei, Taiwan; If There Is No Audience! Centro Cultural Montehermoso, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain; And the Difference Is. Gertude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne, Australia; The Agency of Words. Text Festival, Bury Art Gallery, UK; Images Festival. Art Gallery of York University, Toronto, Canada Vain Efforts. Solo exhibition. Gallery 4A, Asia Australia Arts Centre, Sydney, Australia; Jakarta Biennale 09. Indonesian National Gallery; mononoaware. Solo exhibition. MK Galerie Rotterdam, the Netherlands; ------2008------ And the Difference Is. National University of Singapore Museum; I Queerelanti. Galleria neon>campobase, Bologna, Italy; mononoaware. Solo exhibition. MK Galerie Berlin, Germany; Das Piraterieproblem. Solo exhibition. Brandenburgischer Kunstverein Potsdam, Germany; Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. Galerie Wendt + Friedman, Berlin, Germany; Vertraut oder Verdaut. ZKM Center for Art & Media, Karlsruhe, Germany; Angst Essen – Eat Fear. Solo exhibition. Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Germany; Kunstinvasion. Blumengroßmarkt, Berlin, Germany; Filem-Filem-Filem. Solo exhibition. Singapore Fringe Festival; ------2000-2007----- S.T.O.R.A.G.E: Ming Wong. Solo exhibition. The Agency Gallery, London, UK, 2007; WE. National University of Singapore Museum, 2007; Futurama and Re-inventing Tradition. Collegium Hungaricum Berlin, Germany 2007; A Complete Guide to Rewriting Your History 2. Sparwasser HQ, Berlin, Germany 2006 LabiLabu. The Esplanade, Singapore 2005; Whodunnit? Solo exhibition. Toynbee Studios, London, UK 2005; Whodunnit? Solo exhibition. Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, UK 2004; Re:Thinking:Time. Peterborough City Art Museum, UK 2004; Michael Marriott & Ming Wong. Windows Gallery, British Council Prague, ; Czech Republic 2003; Dia E Vento. Teatro do Campo Alegre, Porto, Portugal 2001; swipe2001. PVA MediaLab, Bridport, Dorset, UK 2001; EAST International. Norwich Gallery, Norwich, UK 2000

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

IN TRANSIT 2011

(15 June 11 - 18 June 11)

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