About these works
60 UNIT: BRUISE
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
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.
About Paul Wong
Since his teenage years, Paul Wong has used video as mirror and probe, both to discover his own identity and to interact with the world at large. Based in Vancouver, he is a self-invented video pioneer and award-winning artist, curator, and organizer of events, conferences, and public interventions since the 1970s. His work is varied and eclectic, ranging from conceptual performances to complex narratives. He is known particularly for his tough engagement with issues of race, sex, and death.
Wong has been involved with the Satellite Video Exchange Society (also known as Video In), a not for profit video production, exhibition, and distribution centre, since its founding in 1973. Through his long-standing participation with the centre and the community it supports, Wong's work has developed along many trajectories. His Main Street Tapes (1976-1979) revolve around his friends in the Main Street neighbourhood of Vancouver, and include 60 Unit: Bruise; Murder Research; and 7 Day Activity among others. In 1984 he completed the Confused project, a trio of related works. These include The Confused Performance, commissioned by The Music Gallery and staged for Video Culture in Toronto (1983), the nine-hour Confused: Sexual Views, and the 52-minute dramatic narrative Confused. Confused: Sexual Views was the primary reason for the cancellation of Wong's scheduled exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, rejected by the director as "not art", but this major work was given central placement when the exhibition was finally presented there in 2002.
Artistic director and co-founder, in 1985, of On Edge Productions, which produces and presents art by new voices, Wong has also taken particular note of artworks by Asians and artists of Asian descent in North America. In 1998 he was curator of Yellow Peril: New World Asians at Chisenhale Gallery (London, UK) and curator and catalogue editor of Yellow Peril: Reconsidered the following year, an exhibition of photo, film, and video work by twenty-five Asian Canadians that toured Canada throughout 1991. On Edge continues its activities, with the newly-launched On Edge TV, a pilot project aiming to expand artists' use of media.
Since his first visit to southern China in 1982, Wong has intensified his attention on issues of race and on the roots of his heritage. So Are You, written and shot in 1989, is a fully scripted study of Vancouver's rough side, where drugs, prostitution, and flagrant racism are abruptly contrasted with a rising yuppie class of money and privilege. Completed in 1994, the work is unnerving-its you-are-there reality confronts the viewer demanding we review our own values. A series of three public-service announcements made for the Canadian Race Relations Foundations entitled Refugee Class of 2000 (2000) includes the segments Class of 2000; I Am a Refugee; and Refugee Prisoner's Lament.
Hungry Ghosts (2003), curated by Elspeth Sage, is a selection of eighteen independent projects for the fiftieth edition of Venice Biennale, 2003. Created to be experienced on a moving vaporetto (a commuter water bus) on the Grand Canal, Wong's installation is a re-working of selected scenes from existing projects, mixed with new material scripted for multiple projections in overlapping layers. Wong was also part of Habituation Cages, a live event conceived for the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival (2003) by Sara Diamond as an experiment on collaboration and new technologies, and is documented on her Website.
In summer 2005, Wong's work was shown as part of the Beijing International New Media Biennale, and included his "late punk" works from the 1970's: the performance piece in ten sity (1978) was projected with a single channel mix of Hungry Ghosts. In a separate section with other Canadians, he created a site-specific text piece, Fifty Four Letter Words For China, using his Floral Alphabets (2003), photographic still lives of flowers digitally manipulated to mark an association with letters of the English alphabet. In a third area, he showed ten Imprints, large digital photo-works from Hungry Ghosts. A major overview of his work is planned for the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2007, taking over most of the museum's exhibition space.
Wong's energy is infectious. He talks of his new layout for working: "The home digital studio has for allowed for the first time 'ever' the ability to mix and match, to work across media: text, photography (slides, negatives, prints), video, video stills, sound, graphics, in the luxury of my own studio. This is a radical shift from working in a production-style office to an artist studio. Before it was all about pre-production planning, organizing everything to make efficient and cost-effective use of out of house services. Now most things can be accomplished here-it's labour intensive as all hell but the hands-on creative process has changed the work. For the first time I can work with photography in the same way that I approached editing a video. Instead of being time based, I build layers. The possibilities are endless. I have such a overwhelming archive of source materials, thousands of colour slides, colour and black and white negs, hundreds of hours of video" (e-mail correspondence, June 12, 2005).
Born in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, in 1955, Paul Wong has produced projects and shown his work throughout Canada, as well as in China and Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, the UK, the U.S., and elsewhere. His works are in many public collections including those of the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Canada Council Art Bank (Ottawa), and the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Winner of the Bell Canada Award in Video Art in 1992, he was the first recipient of the Transforming Art Award from the Asian Heritage Foundation in 2002 and the inaugural winner of the Trailblazer Expressions Award in 2003, created by Heritage Canada, the National Film Board, and CHUM Limited (one of Canada's leading media companies and content providers). In 2005, Paul Wong received Canada's Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts.