Wong Ping (b. 1984, Hong Kong) has been creating a series of highly stylised, absurd and erotic animation films since 2010, and is considered one of the best storytellers of his generation. In recent years, Wong has staged large-scale, immersive solo exhibitions that integrate cinematic, sculptural, textual and interactive elements at institutions such as New Museum, New York; Camden Arts Centre, London; Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, and has participated in exhibitions and screenings at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; New Museum Triennial; Pompidou Center, Paris; School of the Art Institute in Chicago; International Film Festival Rotterdam; Sundance Film Festival; SXSW’s Short Film Program; and M+, Hong Kong, among others.
Essential to Wong Ping’s art that has expanded significantly over the years is the combination of a unique, self-taught animation aesthetics that freely uses tropical, passionate colours and voluptuous forms, recalling Fernand Léger, Tom Wesselmann, Allen Jones, the Memphis Group, and the rich visual culture of Hong Kong; and a chilling, deadpan, restrained yet assertively explicit literary practice that is deceptively autobiographical, and highly aggressive towards both the artist himself and the viewer. The evolving marriage of these two contrasting forms is the vehicle for the artist’s presentation of conceptual complications and justifiably conflicting ideas regarding sexuality, politics and society today — making sense of the nonsensical contemporary world in a no less absurd way.
From the beginning of the 2010s to 2015, Wong Ping shows an early interest in exploring the absurd in everyday life, and in rendering political and social issues erotic. The many short animation films Wong creates in this period — such as No One Remains Virgin Under the Lion Crotch (2011) that speaks of the shockingly magical transformation of the Hong Kong island; the freely punned Slow Sex (2013) that directly portrays the miserable passage of time; the platformer game-like, anti-narrative Witch (2015) that clearly demonstrates the artist’s intent to subvert; or the Doggy Love (2015) that casually and grotesquely dismisses the naiveté promises by a phrase like “puppy love” — are mostly presented in an openly voyeuristic, third-person perspective, and are filled with strong, rhythmic musical elements composed by the artist and guest musicians.
A number of the works made in this period already incorporate what would later be known as the artist’s signature style: a cold voiceover by the artist himself, that sounds intimidatingly autobiographical in most cases. The male voice comments on the scenes in great detail, comprehensively tells stories that are very graphic in nature, and just as directly and frequently addresses the viewer, as if it is the voice of a fellow patient, a fellow voyeur. In the critically acclaimed, elaborate Jungle of Desire (2015), the narrating protagonist (the artist makes it clear that his name is Wong Ping) tells to a fellow voyeur (the viewer) the experience of watching his wife with another man. By sharing a series of painstakingly memorable stories about one’s most private suppression and fetishes, the artist casually and forcefully renders the stimulated viewer complicit.
Also in 2015, Wong Ping starts to play with different video installation formats and sculptural elements, dealing with times that are non-linear and spaces that are unprecedentedly physical. For the exhibition of Jungle of Desire at the project space Things that can happen, Hong Kong in 2015 and later at Art Basel Miami in 2016, Wong creates an immersive environment in which numerous readymade objects mirror the environment of the film; For The Other Side (2015) commissioned by M+, Hong Kong, Wong shows one of his earliest attempts at going beyond the single-channel video format, and introduces for the first time shot video footages on-screen. Such developments culminate in the exhibition “Who’s the Daddy” at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong in 2017, which also witnesses an enrichment of subject matters as Wong considers religious, genealogical and familial relationships in relation to taboos, sins and repentance.
After participating in “One Hand Clapping” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and in the New Museum Triennial in 2018, Wong Ping stages two major institutional exhibitions in Europe in 2019. Both the “Golden Shower” at Kunsthalle Basel and the “Heart Digger” at Camden Arts Centre, London (that the artist wins as the inaugural recipient of the institution’s Emerging Artist Prize) centre on the new series of videos known as Wong Ping’s Fables. Both Fable 1 & 2 show a quasi-post-human tendency, dealing with animal characters and offering moral lessons after concluding each story in the Aesop vein. For the voiceover element in these works Wong uses a female voice that sounds synthesised, further differentiating the structure and tone of the fables from his previous works. Also appearing in both of the institutions are large-scale, inflatable sculptures and readymade objects, which are looser yet more articulate in relation to the spatial configuration of the museums.
In 2021 and 2022, Wong Ping presents two new bodies of works for his solo exhibition “Your Silent Neighbor” at the New Museum, New York, and “Earwax” curated by Hou Hanru at the Times Art Center Berlin. The 15-minute animation journal Sorry for the late reply (2021), made specifically for the former, is titled after the artist’s email to Gary Carrion-Murayari, curator of the show. Deliberately confusing biographical details with fiction, the artist recounts a fetishistic journey, an improbable experience of bodily confinement that reflects the time of the pandemic. For “Earwax”, Wong Ping creates a series of new videos and sculptures, including a three-channel video installation Crumbling Earwax (2022), commissioned by Times Art Center Berlin. The otological machine that Crumbling Earwax operates is uncannily ASMR, continuing the artist’s exploration in the senses and the bodily manifested in previous works such as An Emo Nose (2015), marking a new point of departure as Wong develops a visual language that is not animation proper, but medical, cartographic, and iconographic in essence. Going beyond Zarathustra’s fixation on the ear, Crumbling Earwax alludes to the Derridean otobiographical and claims that “only the earwax remains as wisdom.”