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

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!!

Me in Me

Me in MeMe in Me

3 channel video installation
Commissioned by Shiseido Gallery, Tokyo


“Me in Me”, originally commissioned by Shiseido Gallery, Tokyo in 2013, tells the stories of three women, each living in a different era: ‘classical’, ‘modern’ and ‘virtual’.
Of the recurring archetypes in Japanese cinema, the artist has singled out the figure of the idealized Japanese woman: she traverses temporal differences, often as a lonely soul displaced in a patriarchal context, seeking fulfillment and belonging, defining her notion of ‘self’, finding her will to survive.

Parallel to these narrative ‘trailers’, we see documentary footage of the artist’s filmmaking process, revealing his attempts to embody and interpret clichéd aspects of Japanese culture.
The inevitable gaps of becoming – the speech imperfections, the gender miscasting, the physical compensations, the ‘comedy of errors’ resulting from working closely within the Japanese social system – that are central to his practice once again de-familiarize authenticity, evoking ambiguities that by turns alter and reinforce stereotypes. In doing so, he posts possible shifts upon narrative conventions and unexpected twists in the act of spectatorship.

After Chinatown


single channel video, black & white with audio, 07:09 mins

series of 6 colour photographs 40x60cm

collection of found objects, cinema posters and ephemera


My research and experience from making ‘Making Chinatown’ in Los Angeles in early 2012, led to the creation of ‘After Chinatown’.
Triggered by the iconic last line of Polanski’s 1974 ‘neo-noir’ homage to film noir detective movies from the ’40s – ‘Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown’ – I found I couldn’t ‘forget it’ – instead I embarked on a research journey into the legacy of ‘Chinatown’ as a cinematic symbol (of despair? helplessness? lawlessness? etc).

I play 2 characters, a detective and a femme fatale, both in disguise, wearing a mask or a wig and sunglasses, adopting the look of classic film noir protagonists. The resulting video is in black and white, 4:3 format, and the soundtrack is composed of film noir theme music played backwards. After Chinatown

The 2 figures are walking through what looks to be ‘Chinatown’, though the location keeps shifting between Los Angeles, San Francisco and Hong Kong.
To shoot this, I retraced the journeys made by the early Chinese immigrants who traveled from Hong Kong to California.
Los Angeles, San Francisco and Hong Kong became cinematic cities and the footage that I captured harks back to old films from Hollywood or Hong Kong.
The 2 protagonists, the detective and the femme fatale, seem to be either searching for somebody, or running away from somebody; it is never made clear. It can be an imagined narrative of men looking for their wives or daughters, or women looking for their fathers, husbands or sons, separated by time, geography, history and circumstance. It can also be a metaphor for running away from one’s past or searching for one’s identity.
In any case, it reflects how we are all part of a continuum, linked by and distorted by one’s destiny, history, geography, cultural legacy, etc.

Making Chinatown


mixed-media installation featuring a 7-channel colour video
Commissioned by REDCAT, Los Angeles


“For his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, Ming Wong creates a series of videos and scenic backdrops that center around the making of Roman Polanski’s seminal 1974 film Chinatown. Shot on location in the Gallery at REDCAT, Wong’s reinterpretation, Making Chinatown, transforms the exhibition space into a studio backlot and examines the original film’s constructions of language, performance and identity. With the artist cast in the roles originally played by Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston and Belinda Palmer, key scenes are reenacted in front of printed backdrops that are digitally rendered from film stills and kept intact within the video installation. The wall flats adhere to the conventions of theatrical and filmic staging while taking on qualities of large-scale painting and sculpture.

Wong has been recognized internationally for his ambitious performance and video works that engage with the history of world cinema and popular forms of entertainment. Working through the visual styles and tropes of such iconic film directors as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wong Kar-wai and Ingmar Bergman, Wong’s practice considers the means through which subjectivity and geographic location are constructed by motion pictures. Making Chinatown is Wong’s first project focused on the American context of filmmaking and draws upon Polanski’s iconic film for its use of Los Angeles as a versatile and malleable character. Wong treats the film as a text through which he is able to inhabit and impersonate the qualities that are particular to the place it represents. Making Chinatown mimics and reduces the techniques of mainstream cinema in order to emphasize the theatrical qualities that underlie cinematic artifice.”

(from the REDCAT press release)

Hong Kong Diary

Hong Kong DiaryHong Kong Diary

performances, color photographic series

Hong Kong means a lot to me, as I grew up with Cantonese culture in my family in Singapore in the 70s/80s.
In 2011 the art scene in Hong Kong was changing rapidly, this was just before Art Basel bought over the Hong Kong Art Fair, and before several of the biggest galleries in the world opened shop there, in response to the shift in the global art market.
I was invited to participate in 2 events during the Hong Kong Art Fair: A Wedding and a debate on the motion, Art Must Be Beautiful.

The debate was organised by Intelligence Squared, and featured the following panellists: Lars Nittve (Executive Director, M+), David LaChappelle (artist), Simon de Pury (auctioneer), Stephen Bayley (cultural critic) – four middle-aged white men to debate if “Art Must Be Beautiful” at the Hong Kong Art Fair.
The debate motion itself is derived from one of Marina Abramovic’s key works “Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful” (1975), which challenges the notion of beauty, the limits of the body and the possibilities of the mind.
Without informing anybody beforehand, I turned up at the debate as the character played by Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” – a beautiful art object and a sex symbol of Hong Kong – and proceeded to deconstruct my alter ego…

In a separate event, Hong Kong’s independent art space Para Site and my gallery Vitamin Creative Space (Guangzhou/Beijing) jointly hosted ‘A Wedding’ – a concept that emerged when Hu Fang and Zhang Wei, directors of Vitamin Creative Space, realised that a traditional Chinese wedding banquet – as a special moment in life – could be an interesting space in which to ask artists to think about their work.
So, the couple (who in real life didn’t have a wedding banquet when they got married) invited their artist friends from around the world to donate artworks as ‘wedding gifts’, which were then displayed at Para Site and at a wedding banquet in a traditional Cantonese Restaurant.
As part of the performance program that evening, I turned up at the restaurant in my traditional ‘qipao’ and beehive hairdo, and performed one of the most well known classic Hong Kong movie love songs from the 60s, “Love Without End”.

Biji Diva!

Biji Diva

Biji Diva!

Multimedia performance
Commissioned by In Transit Festival at House of World Cultures, Berlin in June 2011.

Biji Diva! is inspired by a figure that rose out of the artist’s research into Turkish cinema history – the Turkish transsexual pop diva Bülent Ersoy. 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 and went into exile in Germany.
In 1988 the Turkish civil code was revised and Bülent Ersoy received her ‘pink’ ID (for females) and made a triumphant return to showbusiness in Turkey.
In Feb 2008, she courted controversy when she publicly criticised Turkey’s war against Kurdish separatists by saying she would not send her son to war if she were a mother, during a live telecast of the Popstar Alaturka TV show.

In Biji Diva! the artist and his mother May Wong pay tribute to Bülent Ersoy in a live concert, portraying her from 4 stages of her life: Boy Bülent, ‘Trans’ Bülent, Woman Bülent, and ‘Mother Bülent’.

The performance is intended to tour to Istanbul in the future. It will be recorded and eventually both versions will be edited to form a final installation.



2 channel video installation
22 mins

A group of 22 dancers comprising of artists and curators in Berlin took part in a 2-day documented ‘Tanztheater’ workshop, where they practiced dance routines from Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof, in which simple everyday gestures are choreographed to explore the relationships between men and women, individuals and groups, thereby mirroring the various dynamics amongst artists and curators who work together. In the resulting video work, the choreography extends across two distinct ‘windows’ of ‘practice’ and ‘performance’.

‘Casting’ plays a pivotal role in Kontakthof, first created by Pina Bausch in 1978 for Tanztheater Wuppertal, then recast with a group of senior citizens in 2000 and with teenagers in 2008.
Extending this strategy of casting for his project Kontakthope – Ming drew the cast from all the artists and curators based in Berlin that he has worked with since moving there 3 years ago. The final cast reveals the nature of his involvement with and his positioning within the contemporary art scene in Berlin, as influenced by his own artistic and personal identity.

Devo partire. Domani / I must go. Tomorrow



5 channel video installation
12:58 mins loop

Produced by Napoli Teatro Festival Italia 2010 and Singapore Biennale 2011, Devo Partire. Domani is a 5-channel video installation inspired by the cult arthouse 1968 Italian film ‘Teorema’ by Pier Paolo Pasolini. In this work the artist plays every character of a bourgeois Italian household which goes through an identity crisis after the visitation of a mysterious Stranger.

Ming Wong has adapted the story to contemporary times and to the setting of Naples. Entirely filmed on location, the work makes extensive use of the Neopolitan landscape – including the Scampia drug ghetto, the failed industrial desert of Bagnoli, the volcano of Vesuvius, the archeological museum and the vibrant streets of Naples – to offset the attempts by the Singapore-born artist to pass off as archetypal Italian characters inhabiting these genuine spaces.
Ghosts of the past revisit their lives; statues of Gods come alive. Visions of an apocalyptic future, references to Italian cinema and cinema history enter the picture, recalling not just Pasolini’s work but also his persona and legacy.

Life and Death in Venice / Leben und Tod in Venedig / Vita e Morte a Venezia


3 channel video installation
16:08 mins loop


Ming Wong’s 3-screen video installation is a revisitation of Death in Venice – Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film version of Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella.

On opposite screens the artist performs the roles of both the ageing composer/writer Gustav von Aschenbach as well as Tadzio, the adolescent boy whose uncorrupted youth and beauty mirrors the older man’s state of crisis and impending death.
Entirely self-directed, produced and conceived whilst his presentation for the Singapore Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale was still on-going, the fi lm was shot in several original locations of the book/film as well as against appropriated backdrops of artworks in the Venice Biennale.

The ‘Adagietto’ from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no.5 – the theme tune of Visconti’s film – provides the soundtrack, via a flawed performance by the artist himself on piano.