About two years ago Wong Ping was interested in varicose veins. Annoyed one day while getting in an elevator, he noticed them on the legs of a passenger. “I could see them very clearly,” he said from his Hong Kong studio in a recent Zoom interview. He started researching online, reading about gels that relieve the discomfort they cause. What would it be like, he wondered, to be a varicose vein?
This investigation ended up forming the basis for Wong’s latest video, which debuted last June during his first investigative exhibition in the United States, at the New Museum in New York. His practice is to apply dream world logic to real world scenarios. “[I’m] interested in something that is a mixture of the weird and the real world, or something extraordinary happening in real society, ”he said. “A mixture between [here] and elsewhere, maybe something is happening on another planet. It gives the impression to people that it’s not real … [but] everything comes from my experience.
Already a sensation in Hong Kong, where he was born and based, Wong, 37, is known for making bizarre animations that feature uncomfortable – and sometimes magnificent – mixtures of sexuality and violence. Masturbation, genitals, and mutilation are staples in Wong’s work, but so are animals with a weird and eerily human anxiety. Populated by flat, schematic and brightly colored figures, these animations envision worlds unrelated by the social mores that govern society as we know it.
Over the past five years, solo exhibitions at places like Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland and the Camden Arts Center in London have given Wong’s work wide exposure on the international art circuit. He’s come a long way since the days when people usually stumbled upon his random videos online. But unlike many artists of similar reputations, Wong does not have a studio team – for fear, he said, that his animations will be too polished. “You know, when I ask people for help, their skills would be, like, too good for me,” he said. Instead, he works solo from his Hong Kong space, and much of his work is done on his laptop using software like Illustrator and After Effects, Adobe programs commonly used in post-production. film and television production.
Like many artists who work primarily on computers, Wong’s studio barely resembles a studio. Wong had rearranged the space after the Lunar New Year festivities two days before our conversation. “It’s a little super messy right now,” he said. Except it wasn’t: her light-flooded apartment overlooking a cluster of factories looks like a neat and tidy office, with a workspace by a window, comics nearby, and a place to go. sleep when he chooses to spend the night.
Wong rarely finished script at hand when making a video. He begins by composing vague scripts on a trek through the scenic mountains of Hong Kong, far from his studio. “I need to go out to write, to think,” he said. “When it’s almost done in my head I can have the patience to sit down [and animate]. (He calls this later stage “the boring, repetitive animation part.”) The scripts sprout from his association of different ideas. The idea of being a varicose vein obsessed him to the point of distraction; was late to complete a regular column he writes for a literary magazine, Letters Flowers, he told his editor he was trapped in a vein. He began to tie the veins to fishing memories with his friends.
With a largely completed script in hand, Wong begins drawing digitally in Illustrator, allowing him to create images that appear flat. The process, he said, is akin to “scribbling.” It then imports these files into After Effects, a program typically used by video game designers and visual effects studios to create high-tech images. In Wong’s hands, however, the results are intentionally a bit amateurish – movement isn’t smooth and the overall appearance isn’t polished. For the varicose veins video, he fused the footage he’d thought of to create the film’s foreground: a scene in which an older saleswoman’s varicose veins become a lake (of those peach memories) that traps a man , a replacement for Wong. She then leads him to the staff restroom, where the male protagonist massages his leg in an attempt to escape. Basically, he’s working from inside her body, literally trying to bring what’s going on inside her out into the world. “I think people could be really open,” Wong said, “to be really honest with themselves.”
Many artists of Wong’s generation were inspired by the internet, where there are more hours of entertainment available than a single person could ever consume. But that wasn’t the case for Wong, who didn’t watch a lot of movies or TV shows growing up or spent a lot of time online. Born in the mid-80s, he was instead influenced primarily by comics and anime, the latter passion inspiring his classmates to label him. otaku– the Japanese word for a nerd with an obsession with cartoons.
After Wong graduated from Curtin University in Perth, Australia in 2005, he found himself unable to use his bachelor’s degree in multimedia design. produces B-quality television series. Tired of work, he started playing with After Effects to make his first animations.
A breakthrough came in 2011, when Wong directed a music video for his friends’ band, No One Remains Virgin. Accompanying their song “Under the Lion Crotch”, the video offers the first mature take on the spooky world of Wong via a tribute to Lion Rock, an iconic Hong Kong mountain that resembles a crouching animal. But rather than giving the summit a sacred and transcendent feeling, Wong offers a secular universe in which Lion Rock is a living, breathing thing with a giant penis. Among other antics, the mountain takes on four bald people who jump rope, two of whom are wearing shirts reading I❤️HK. Two of them die a gruesome death when the lion, by mysterious means, blows their heads up, spilling blood all over the place. The other two masturbate the lion, the results flood Hong Kong.
Although less obvious to those outside the region, the video demonstrates a political trend in Wong’s art; he was involved in the Hong Kong protests against an extradition bill. “I would say that in each of my jobs I try to talk about it a little bit,” he said. On the territory, institutions have been cautious about exhibiting works like this one, which Wong posted on his Vimeo channel. Politics, he said, “play a huge role in my work, but unfortunately I don’t know of a brave or a brave man. [Hong Kong] gallery or museum that would like to show these works.
Wong continued in this mode with his ongoing “Fables” series, which he described as fairy tales for our digital age. In the first video, on display at the New Museum Triennial in 2018, a chicken cop with Tourette’s syndrome kills civilians, a pregnant elephant prepares for a second act as a Buddhist nun, and an anthropomorphic tree lives in fear of cockroaches (as does Wong himself). Applying logic to these videos won’t make them cohesive, a fact Wong pointed out when he submitted the following description for the screening of the second video of “Fables” at the Sundance Film Festival: “Wong Ping urinates twice before d ” press gently on your head with his right foot, allowing you to see your own reflection in his urine more closely.
Even though his work is endorsed by museums and galleries around the world, Wong sometimes misses the days when his audiences were mostly curious online viewers who didn’t necessarily know they were watching art. “When people visit a gallery or a museum, they have expectations – they’ve read about you, they’ve heard of you, they’ve seen the posters,” he said. “But when I show my work on the Internet, I get comments from people saying bad things about me. You know, I really like it.