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Paul Wong

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Video still from <b>60 UNIT: BRUISE</b> by Paul Wong

Paul Wong, 60 UNIT: BRUISE, (1976), 4:46 min.

Video still from <b>Ordinary Shadow Chinese Shade</b> by Paul Wong

Paul Wong, Ordinary Shadow Chinese Shade, (1988), 5:06 min. excerpt from the 89:00 min. original

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About these works

60 UNIT: BRUISE (1976)
Distributed by Vtape.

Part performance, part document, Paul Wong's friend Kenneth Fletcher withdraws sixty units of blood from his own arm, then carefully injects it via syringe into Wong's naked shoulder. A purple bruise spreads slowly over the artist's skin.

Intended then as evidence of their friendship, the work has taken on different overtones. With the dangers of mixing bodily fluids now known, sharing needles is a shock on screen.

Fellow video artist Richard Fung writes: "Six years before 'gay cancer' was reported, and almost a decade before the identification of HIV, 60 Unit: Bruise portrays a homoerotic blood-brother ritual with allusions to drug culture. But from a vantage point of two decades into the AIDS crisis, when new strains of hepatitis are constantly being identified, the audacity of its play between youth and decadence, pleasure and danger becomes a document of irretrievable innocence. It evokes nostalgia for a present no longer possible." (Fung 38)

Ordinary Shadow Chinese Shade (1988)
Distributed by Vtape.

Born in Canada, Paul Wong always wanted to see China, his family's homeland, but permission to visit the People's Republic of China was difficult. He made his first trip there with his mother in 1982. "Back then there was only big, low-quality VHS camcorders or huge professional television cameras," Wong explains (e-mail interview, July 12, 2005). "At that time China did not permit filming without permission, professional cameras were not allowed into the country. Not wanting problems I went armed with a variety of consumer recording devices: two 35 mm Nikons, Polaroid, Super 8 with sound, audio cassettes. Not unlike all the different forms, my approach was equally scattered, I was a mess in culture shock. I went with stereotyped expectations, once I could not find these, I was unable to see what was in front of me. I came back shattered with fragmented documents. (These fragmented documents are now probably really interesting.) The slides and Polaroids are good. I have only seen the Super 8 films once. It is because of that first trip that I went back for four months in 1986. Instead of rushing about, I sat back and watched the world around me and recorded over forty hours of hi-8 video. From that came Ordinary Shadows."

Very different in both form and content from his earlier work, Ordinary Shadows is a lyrical document of Wong's second visit to China. The video begins with New Year's festivities and a farewell banquet in Vancouver. Conversations with relatives reveal how some made their way to Canada. "Oh, all Orientals look the same. He came to Canada using false papers," as one partygoer comments. There's plenty of history woven in here, Japan and World War II, and the family stories continue when Wong reaches China. We arrive at Pearl River, then Thai Huunt, and we meet relatives who greet the artist and his mother: "Welcome back to Fong Gong. ... The old house is this way."

Even without knowing these people, one is profoundly moved by their stories. By "walking the mountain," honour is done to the ancestors with gifts and feasting at their graves. "They killed him in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution," we hear, and elsewhere, "My brother's grave was found only last year." Briefly we enter history with Wong and his mother, seeing both old and new ways, each with their place. Born of a desire for making real what had only been stories, family and friends known only by hearsay, Ordinary Shadows, Chinese Shades is a quest for identity, a document establishing history, a winding narrative of discovery and affirmation.

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