Wong Wai Yin: Without Trying
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 4:59pm on 19th October 2016
1. Wong Wai Yin, Everyone's sick, video still, 2016
2. Wong Wai Yin, Wish you were eternal, mixed media installations (170x170x108.2cm; 136x136x86.6cm; 102x102x64.9cm each), 2016
3. Wong Wai Yin, The dog that won't be trained, video (still), 0'29sec, 2016
4. Wong Wai Yin, Everyone's sick, three videos (17'24; 11'32; 19'mins each), 2016
5. Wong Wai Yin, Some missions belong to Grandmother, and some to the Virgin Mary, mixed media, 60x15x28.5cm, 2016
Wong Wai Yin has long collaborated on art performances, installations and videos with her husband Kwan Sheung Chi. However, after the birth of their son opportunities for Wong to exhibit her own work have been limited. This is a breakout exhibition, her first solo showing in five years. It is a deft display and introduces, with humour and gentle commentary, a serious aspect of that delay: her attacks of anxiety and hesitation to work on her art. Creative people, visual artists – and writers, actors, musicians, composers etc – need to produce original ideas in their work. Similarly, Australian writer Gerald Murnane explains that this is often “filled with failed beginnings, wrong turnings and abandoned drafts, and elaborate plans that came to nothing.” The pressure and time spent on creativity is stressful. For some artists this leads to incapacitation and feelings of inadequacy.
In a corner of the exhibition sits a rack holding a set of watercolour paintings in easy viewing plastic sleeves. The paintings are an installation entitled Without Trying whose messages are the heart of the exhibition. They contain Wong’s personal adages and reminders to keep her motivated and be strong. These paintings with added text include such advice as: ‘be ambitious’; ‘don’t compete with others’; ‘throw away the bad works’; ‘use the right tools’; ‘protect yourself’; ‘don’t be naïve’ and ‘celebrate nothing.’
Motherhood, childcare and shared parenting has encouraged Wong to become more confident. Raising a child has focused her. The birth of her son forced her to overcome her anxieties. A small cast sculpture, Some missions belong to Grandmother, and some to the Virgin Mary, shows Mary reading The Bible to a child alongside a grandmother, reading a book to a child. The sculpture depicts quiet reflection and teaching, constant choices between the secular and spiritual world, and parenting as nurturing.
Alongside childcare Wong has also deliberately undertaken self-improvement courses to build her confidence and improve her skills. Sometimes, the results were farcical, but fed an art idea. Wong enrolled in a dog-training course, but did not have a dog. At the first lesson, the dog trainer offered his own dog, but as it had previously been trained, all of Wong instructions were immediately obeyed! The resulting video, The dog that won’t be trained shows a single shot focused on a sitting plastic Alsatian, who is receiving instructions, in sequence: firstly a quietly spoken “sit”, then a yelled “SIT”; “stay” / “STAY” etc. The dog sits, motionless, unmoving, no matter how or what is spoken. There is a parallel with the parenting of children: quiet instructions are too-often initially ignored, until a yelled order may prompt a response.
Wong also has an interest in ‘new age’ therapies and in three long videos, collectively presented as Everyone’s sick, she acts as a counselor. By using Spiritual Response Therapy techniques she interviews two artists and an art researcher about their careers. Off screen and deleted from the video are Wong’s questions, which are directed by a stone on a string – a swing in a certain direction leads Wong’s line of questioning. We only see the pixilated/hidden faces of the interviewees and hear highly distorted speech. Our comprehension of the dialogue is the subtitled captions. The conversations reflect similar concerns Wong may have about the art world and her own place in it. These frank sessions with her art colleagues, as with herself, “help clear them from obstacles in their un/subconscious.”
Wong’s art is appropriately set in Spring Workshop’s part-domestic setting: Clearing ten thorns sees Wong stamping on dogma and ideologies in the form of food next to a kitchen. And, the audience can relax on a sofa listening to an audio recording of her practicing her ukulele, singing in French (after language lessons). The song “makes everything bearable” and is sung “to quell her nerves in difficult moments.”
Taking centre stage is an installation of three wooden pyramids, Wish you were eternal, that captures the spirit of her personal renewal. Mirroring the pyramids at Gaza in Egypt, they are packed with the destroyed remnants of all of Wong’s previous artwork. In an accompanying video, we hear that “there is life after (the Indian god) Kali’s destruction” and finally, renewal is not quickly achieved, so patiently “wait for it, for the slow unrolling of a painting.”
Link for further info:
'Wong Wai Yin: Without Trying' @ Spring Workshop
A version of this review was published in the South China Morning Post on 11 September 2016.