Bloody Marys – Song of the South Seas

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Bloody Marys – Song of the South Seas

mixed media installation featuring a single channel video (10:35) with stereo sound, and artist’s archive of photographs, annotated music scores, cinema ephemera, etc
2018

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Bali Ha’i… the name that conjures up tiki dreamlands and tropical beach holidays on faraway fantasy islands. Here am I, Your special island!
Such is the legacy of this showtune from Rogers and Hammerstein’s stage musical South Pacific, which opened on Broadway in 1949 and was turned into a film in 1958. The plot was based on James A. Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific about the Pacific campaign in World War II.
Bali Ha’i is the siren song delivered by the native matriach Bloody Mary – a Tonkinese (north Vietnamese) character concocted by her creators out of the colonial swamp of migrants in the Pacific Islands, transplanted there by a French planter – to lure newly arrived Lieutenant Joseph Cable to the forbidden island, in the hope of pimping her young daughter to be his wife.
Her image is a repugnant, sun-dried, mercenary, overweight female, costumed in an assortment of discarded seashell trinkets and army surplus fatigues, barking in her broken English Fo’ Dolla’ in exchange for a grass skirt or some other tropical kitsch curiosity.
Her name Bloody Mary connotes at once histories of brutal, hazardous journeys across the seas; virginities surrendered in violent struggles to survive; the default pet name Mary for the hordes of faceless foreign females, silencing their true native selfness; a damned maternal figure one loves to hate; a salty, spicy pick-me-up, but no cure for a colonial hangover.
In this work, sixteen Bloody Marys are woven together, mostly from amateur and high school musical productions found on the internet and interlaced with the artist’s own rendition and the original Bloody Mary from the film.
This mesh of Marys – revealing a casting spectrum of Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, etc and other forms of ‘unconventional looking’ physical and racial Otherness – calls out for a new ‘special island’ for the 21st century, an island of inclusion and alterity and new subjectivity on the horizon, and a tribute to those individuals who have broken the ground ahead of us.

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The role of Bloody Mary in Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific was immortalised by two African American actresses, who each played a central role in expanding opportunities for African Americans during the American musical theater’s golden age.
In the 1958 film version, Juanita Hall reprised the stage role that she originated on Broadway but her singing voice is dubbed over by Muriel Smith who played Bloody Mary in the original London production.

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Juanita Hall (1901-1968), of African American and Irish parentage, trained at New York’s Juilliard School of Music. She formed the Juanita Hall Choir in 1936 whose performances included radio broadcasts of negro spirituals.
She performed with an African American theatrical troupe the Lafayette Players and had a string of minor roles on Broadway, before the break in her career in her late forties in 1949, when she was cast as Bloody Mary.
Her sharp-witted performance stole the show and earned the short stocky actress the Tony award for Best supporting actress in a Musical in 1950, becoming the first African American to win a Tony Award.

In 1958 she was cast in another Rogers and Hammerstein musical, Flower Drum Song, the first Broadway show to feature a predominantly Asian cast, with Juanita Hall as the sole exception, playing a Chinese marriage broker, Madam Liang.
She sang the blues on the New York nightclub circuit, and recorded songs including several written for her by Langston Hughes, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance.

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muriel smith_photo autograph WEB

Muriel Smith (1923-1985), whose singing voice is used for Juanita Hall’s portayal of Bloody Mary in the 1958 film, was the First African American to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Even before she graduated in 1946 (in the same class as Leonard Bernstein and Isaac Stern), she had made her professional début as the original Carmen Jones on Broadway in 1943, based on Bizet’s Carmen with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II featuring an African-American cast.

Despite her early success she was lured to greater opportunities abroad as a black artist and moved to England where she originated the role of Bloody Mary at London’s famed Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1951. In 1953 she appeared in another Rogers and Hammerstein classic The King and I, playing another Asian role, as the King’s head wife Lady Thiang.
From 1956-57 she sang the title role in Bizet’s Carmen at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.
She became active in the Moral Re-Armament movement and made her only starring film role in The Crowning Experience in 1960, about the life of Mary McLeod Bethune, the black educator and civil rights activist who became an advisor to President Franklin D Roosevelt. In her own words: “As an artist I am using my talent and my career not only to bring an answer to the problems of America, but to help other nations find their destiny.”

JET magazine_muriel smith WEB

 

Installation shots, A god, a beast & a line, Para Site, Hong Kong, 2018:

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Lehre deutsch mit Petra von Kant / Teach German with Petra von Kant

Lehre deutsch mit Petra von Kant / Teach German with Petra von Kant

single channel video (08:00), colour with stereo sound
2017

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In 2007 just before moving to Berlin, I made Lerne Deutsch mit Petra von Kant / Learn German with Petra von Kant in which I tried to learn to speak and act like a German by closely emulating the actress Margit Carstensen in the role of fashion designer Petra von Kant, suffering a mid-life-career-crisis in Rainer Werner Fassbinder´s 1972 film Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant).
In the time since I moved to Berlin, Petra von Kant’s expressiveness has given me the words (and attitude!) I needed to overcome similar moments of despair and desperation. From what started as an exercise for a self-designed “integration course” in Germany – who would have guessed? – ten years later I would find myself in the role of a professor at UdK, the University of the Arts in Berlin.
I invited ten of my students to make this work with me to commemorate ten (mostly) productive years of German integration. A broad spectrum of young artists in Berlin, some of whom were as new to the city as I had been in 2007, collectively transformed into this new and restlessly changing figure of Petra von Kant of the new millenium.

Next Year / L’Année Prochaine / 明年

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Next Year / L’Année Prochaine / 明年

Mixed media installation featuring a single channel HDvideo (17:40min)
2016

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“With Next Year / L’Année Prochaine / 明年, Singaporean artist Ming Wong revisits an icon of the French New Wave: L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad, 1961) by Alain Resnais, written by Alain Robbe-Grillet. This film is still famous for the ambiguity of its narrative structure and its innovative cinematic language. The camera reflects the pace of the mind through repetition, reversal, freeze frame, and captures reality, memory, and illusion while inventing a sequential order different even from the internal logic of the montage.

Next Year / L’Année Prochaine / 明年 is no remake of the original movie, but a variation on the unequivocal shift desired by Resnais. Ming Wong emphasizes and confirms the loss of temporal and spatial markers by engaging in a dialectical and iconographic collage.

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This work is the second version of the piece initially produced for Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing in 2015. In the first version shot in the French Concession district in Shanghai, the artist performs both male and female characters. Notions of identity and gender fade as much as assert themselves in a strange and complex atmosphere. This time, a new editing combines the existing new scenes with new shots at Nymphenburg and Schleissheim Castles in Bavaria – where the film was originally shot in 1961, excerpts from the original film and from Hiroshima, mon amour (1959, by Resnais as well, written by Marguerite Duras) shot in Japan and in the streets of French city Nevers.

Between the meanders of time and forgetfulness advocated by L’Année dernière à Marienbad and passionate love inhabited by Atomic anxiety in Hiroshima, mon amour, this referential collage ignores the sacrosanct rule of unity of time, action and space. Representation and narrative levels meet there, overlap and blur. The result is a floating, dreamlike and pointedly artificial universe in a pure Dadaist logic that overcomes the notion of authorship and affiliation of the work.

The space of Next Year / L’Année Prochaine / 明年 is not real but mental. It’s colluding different realities and fictions to produce what Max Ernst called the “spark of poetry that arises from the approximation of the realities.”

Text by Étienne Bernard, director/curator of Passerelle Contemporary Art Center in Brest, France, where this work had its premiere.

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“In 明年 | Next Year | L’Année Prochaine, Ming Wong performs the male and female roles in fragments taken from Last Year in Marienbad (1961), written by Alain Robbe-Grillet and directed by Alain Resnais. The film is celebrated for its innovative cinematic language – the camera reflecting the pace of the mind through repetition, reversal, freeze frame, and white out-capturing reality, memory, and illusion while inventing a sequential order different even from the internal logic of the montage.
In the original film, the memory loss of the main character inhibits her thought process and time-”next year” compressed into now-loses all meaning.

Next Year Still 03

Ming Wong’s video works are generally based on excerpts of art films. From beginning to end, Last Year at Marienbad never makes reference to a specific location, and Ming Wong takes advantage of this fact to re-stage the work at Marienbad Café and Fuxing Park, both in Shanghai. Taking place in a café named after a French art film and a park combining French and Chinese gardening styles, neighborhoods and apartments that reference Chinese and Western architecture, the film hints at the notion that cultural perceptions of time remain unfixed. As a Singaporean artist based in Berlin, the artist’s cultural identity has often been used in interpretation of his work. However, cinema is inherently “transnational” and is used by the artist to reveal the synthesis of cultures. In 明年| Next Year | L’Année Prochaine, this is most clearly viewed in post-colonial Shanghai’s “Western-style” Marienbad Café, where Wong’s cinematic language and conscious structuring of the film are emphasized.”

Excerpt from the UCCA exhibition text by curator Venus Lau.

 

Installation shots, Passerelle Centre of Contemporary Art, Brest, France, 2016 :

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Aku Akan Bertahan / I Will Survive

welcome_Aku-Akan-Bertahan_I-Will-SurviveAku Akan Bertahan / I Will Survive

3 channel HDvideo installation, approx 27mins loop (27:29mins 27:33mins 26:49mins)

Series of 6 Archival Pigment Prints (120x80cm)
2015

video preview with reference clips from the original films

 

 

Aku Akan Bertahan / I Will Survive comprises a three-channel video installation, a photoseries and a live dance performance.
Using 3 classics of Australian cinema as a starting point – Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975); Walkabout (1971, Nicholas Roeg); Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994, Stephan Elliot) – 3 films that deal with the confrontation of humans with the Australian outback – Aku Akan Bertahan / I Will Survive transposes the characters, narrative, and location to Jogjakarta in Java, Indonesia, situated between Singapore (where the artist comes from) and Brisbane (where the work was finally presented). By transposing the imaginary from the Australian films to Java, Indonesia – notable for its long history and religious evolution that intersects Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam – the work taps into a larger, older, shared regional history – far older than notions of colonial Australia or Singapore.

For Aku Akan Bertahan / I Will Survive the Singaporean Chinese artist invited 3 other collaborators who also work with Drag: Tamara Pertamina (Indonesian based in Jogja); Shahmen Suku (Indian Singaporean based in Sydney); and Bradd Edwards (Caucasian Australian based in Sydney).
During a 2-week residency in Jogja, they learnt a choreography that combines classical Javanese dance, Dangdut (Indonesian Pop) and hiphop (with a nod to Beyoncé Knowles), set to Gloria Gaynor’s anthem I Will Survive (immortalised in the film Priscilla) in a new version devised with an Indonesian Street band of “Angklung” musicians improvising on their bamboo instruments.
The four performers can be seen as Victorian schoolgirls wandering amongst ancient volcanic rocks, or as nymphs bathing in mystical waters, or as decorated (drag)queens conquering the mountains overlooking the lands. Crowned with wigs made of recycled plastic raffia in bold primary colours, the four figures are a mix of Javanese decoration, drag queen kitsch, children’s television, classical European painting, Cosplay, etc – blurring the lines of ethnic or national belongings, and between high and low culture. What does survive is the determinedness of the indeterminacy of culture, a resolution to perpetual (r)evolution.

Performers Ming Wong, Tamara Pertamina, Shahmen Suku, Bradd Edwards
Choreographer Otniel Tasman
Production Manager Karina Roosvita
Production Assistant Tamara Pertamina
Location scout Ardi Kuhn
Cinematogapher Shalahuddin Siregar
Stills photographer Christian Dwiky
Make-up & Hair Gandrik Waluyo
Music (Part 3) Orkes Angklung New Banesa
Music recording Andreas Oki Gembus
Postproduction Kin Chui, Marko Schiefelbein

Filmed on location in Jogjakarta, Indonesia.

Commissioned for the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT8) by Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane, Australia in 2015.
With support from Artspace, Sydney and National Arts Council, Singapore.

With thanks to:
Arahmaiani Feisal, Deddy Irianto (Langgeng Art Foundation), Jimmy Ong, Mulyana, Russell Storer

blouinartinfo interview

Looking At The Stars

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Looking At The Stars

live performance commissioned for Mobile M+: Live Art, Hong Kong 2015

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“Ming Wong’s live performance Looking at the Stars is a key chapter in his ongoing research into the seemingly opposite realms of traditional Cantonese opera and science fiction. Exploring the meeting of cinema, theatre, gender representation, and the intricate dance between language and translation, the performance draws inspiration from Andrei Tarkovsky’s genre-bending cinematic classic Solaris (1972) to tell a new kind of story. It also serves as an experimental exploration that will inform Wong’s staging of a full-fledged sci-fi influenced Cantonese opera production in the near future.

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Looking at the Stars is a collaborative effort developed through workshops between Wong and young Cantonese opera actors and musicians. The resulting collection of gestures, images, and specially-written Cantonese opera passages – performed by female actors as a nod to traditional cross-gender roles – are staged with the atmospheric intensity of the deserted space station in Solaris. Moving in and out of different languages and styles, Looking at the Stars is an experimental piece that explores the idea of ‘live performance’ beyond a defined context or genre, and probe into the possible overlap between two different art forms.”

Text from Mobile M+: Live Art festival program notes by curator Yung Ma

Scenography for a Chinese Science Fiction Opera

Ascent To The Heavenly PalaceScenography for a Chinese Science Fiction Opera

mixed media installation featuring a handpainted theatre stage set (paint on canvas, wood, steel, motors)
2015

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For the installation Scenography for a Chinese Science Fiction Opera, Ming Wong transformed the Nave gallery space at UCCA into a full-scale three-dimensional theatre stage set, constructed out of hand-painted wooden backdrops.
Visitors can walk through the interior of a spaceship – derived from science fiction movies from the Eastern Bloc in the 50s and 60s, and fused with the aesthetics of a Chinese ornamental garden – and then beyond swirls of clouds into outer space – inspired by cosmological design motifs from Chinese opera and ancient religious cave murals – towards the swirling vortex of the universe, symbolized by a kaleidoscopic, disorienting wheel of color.

Ascent To The Heavenly Palace
The diverse iconography in the work represents a multifaceted cultural landscape and a nonlinear timeframe derived from the artist’s recent investigations into various aspects of the modernization of Cantonese opera, including its scenography and cinematic transformations, and its unlikely relationship with the development of science-fiction in China.
In this work, the viewer seems to be walking towards the future yet facing the past, which calls into question the linear, continuous and quantitative aspects of time.

Accompanying the stage set is a series of photographs of the artist as a space explorer within this scenography, entitled “Ascent to the Heavenly Palace (I-IV)”. The costumes, backdrops and poses recall an uncertain nostalgia of chinese propaganda posters, children’s space adventure books and pantomime.

Photographs by Eric Gregory Powell.

Windows On The World (Part 2)

Windows On The World (Part 2)
Windows On The World (Part 2)

Windows On The World (Part 2)

24 channel video installation
2014

This work focuses on the concept of “future” in Chinese modernity, and particular, how it is manifested in the unlikely relationship between sci-fi and 20th century Cantonese opera.
The former has been at the core of Chinese modern reformation, the latter is viewed more as a potent modern national identifier, than as a continuous art form, surviving from pre-modern times unaltered.
The structure featured as part of the Shanghai Biennale could represent the deck of a space ship in a fictional Chinese sci-fi movie from the 1960s or 1970s.

Windows On The World (Part 2)
Windows On The World (Part 2)

Although China’s radical approach to both tradition and to redesigning the future was different from communist countries elsewhere during this time, Wong nonetheless incorporates elements from an icon of 20th century Soviet cinema. Specifically, the artist references Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), its oceanic landscape and infinite horizon of islets. The individualist melancholy and alienation of the film are contrasted with a history shaped by the scale and scope of the Cultural Revolution.
(from the exhibition text)

Windows On The World (Part 1)

Windows On The World (Part 1)Windows On The World (Part 1)

in collaboration with Thomas Tsang / DeHow Projects
commissioned by ParaSite Art Space / Spring Workshop for the group exhibition Islands Off the Shores of Asia

mixed media installation featuring a single channel video
2014

As part of the Wong’s long-term endeavor on the unconscious relationships between sci-fi and Cantonese opera, the structure built in the exhibition departs from the oceanic landscape appearing in Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) and its infinite horizon of islets. In this work the vortex of space conquest collides with the vortex of antiquity, becoming a site where a Chinese sci-fi plot is imagined.
(from exhibition text)

Singaporean artist Ming Wong’s incredible tunnel installation Windows on the World (2014). As you walk into the Kubrick-esque ‘tunnel’ (fashioned out of wood and fabric), dotted with translucent portholes, the soft strains of Cantonese opera grow louder. At the end of the tunnel, the vanishing point, a looped video is screened of Wong in spacesuit gear, tumbling and arcing through the air to the opera aria Princess ZhaoJun Crosses the Border.
“Science fiction is a space where one can reimagine societies and identities, and extend an idea or the repercussions of that idea, on a society,” says Wong of his creative response to the show title, Islands Off the Shores of Asia. “And the events of [Occupy Central] have called up so many ideas and questions. What is the future of Hong Kong? Utopian or dystopian? Who belongs to Hong Kong? Who does Hong Kong belong to?”
(from TimeOut review by Ysabelle Cheung)

Blast off into the Sinosphere

Blast off into the SinosphereBlast off into the Sinosphere

ongoing research, performance lecture
from 2014

During a residency in Hong Kong from Dec 2013 to Jan 2014, supported by Para Site/Spring Workshop, my research on the history of Cantonese opera cinema led me into the realm of contemporary Chinese science fiction.
At first I studied how Cantonese opera went from stage to screen and how the innovations of cinema have then affected this form’s return from screen to stage.
I was interested in the idea of exploring how one of the oldest performing art forms in the world can be used to address notions of the ‘future’.
What role can Cantonese opera play in a world that continues to evolve at such great speed, when a booming economy and rapid technological developments can cause daily life in China to resemble a classic sci-fi narrative?
This led me to focus on the history and development of science fiction literature and cinema in the Chinese-speaking world, particularly in mainland China.

I gave a performance lecture at Spring Workshop in Jan 2014, presenting my ideas thus far, while I continue on this fantastic voyage between the diverse expressions of the past and the future.

Bülent Wongsoy: Biji Diva!

41_boy-vinylBülent Wongsoy: Biji Diva!

mixed media installation featuring video, sound & light installations, vinyl record & cassette covers, cassette wig, colour photographs, archival materials
2014

I first came across Bülent Ersoy in my research into Turkish cinema history. She started her music and film career as a young man in the 70s, underwent gender re-assignment in 1981 (but kept her male name ‘Bülent’), had her performances banned by the military regime that came into power, went into exile in Germany until 1988 when a new government revised the civil code and granted her a ‘pink’ ID (for females) and she made her triumphant return to showbusiness in Turkey.

In June 2011, I paid tribute to Bülent Ersoy in a live concert ‘Biji Diva!’ at the ‘In Transit’ Festival at the House of World Cultures in Berlin, portraying her from 4 stages of her life: Boy Bülent, ‘Trans’ Bülent, Woman Bülent, and ‘Mother Bülent’ (with my own mother May Wong).

Bülent Wongsoy: Biji Diva!Following the incidents in Istanbul from the Gezi Park protests in 2013, I decided to present part 2 of the Bülent Ersoy project for my first solo exhibition at carlier I gebauer, Berlin.
The gallery is in Kreuzberg, in a building with Berlin’s largest indoor Turkish wedding party hall, along with Turkish wedding gown rental shops and photo studios, and on opening nights the Berlin art crowd often gets mixed with Turkish wedding guests 🙂

For this show I presented the life and work of Bülent Wongsoy, an (East) Asian doppelgänger of Bülent Ersoy. Starting their careers as talented young men in the 70s and singing their way to new gender and national identities through the turbulent 80s, Wongsoy and Ersoy have become the celebrity divas they deserve to be today.
But unlike Ersoy (who is a close friend of the Turkish prime minister Erdogan), Wongsoy continues to be a freedom-fighting protest singer, having sung and released albums in different languages in various parts of the world, as seen in her record covers on display in Kurdish, Cantonese, Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese in addition to Turkish and German.
The Diva Wongsoy has the power to stop tanks in their tracks and to turn tear gas into hair spray –
Biji Diva!!