Optimistic pessimism

Wong Ping’s animations have often evoked the feverish imaginings of people living in small rooms and connecting with others through the internet.

Wong Ping

Wong Ping, video still from Wong Ping’s Fables 2 2019, single-channel video animation with sound, 13:30 min. Courtesy the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong / Shanghai; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles.

 

黃炳,《黃炳寓言(二)》錄像靜幀,2019,單頻有聲動畫,13分30秒。圖片由藝術家及馬凌畫廊,香港/上海;Tanya Bonakdar畫廊,紐約/洛杉磯提供

Justin Paton, head curator of international art, spoke to Wong Ping about his experience of this year and how it has impacted his thoughts about the future.

 

Justin Paton: You’ve often described your work as being diary-like – a record of your own feelings in response to a strange world. How would you describe your feelings in 2020 – this year of pandemic and protest?

Wong Ping: Surreal, confused, angry and avoiding feeling. During the pandemic, staying inside and living a digital life has become the new normal for many.

 

JP: Do you feel that reality has caught up with your videos? How has the pandemic shifted your feelings about isolation, domesticity, and internet existence?

WP: Sure, it is a globalised ‘lifestyle’. Everyone shares similar feelings and stuff at the moment. I feel rather weird to see everyone, or institutions etc, trying so hard to gain publicity through social media all of a sudden. Anyway, I actually feel that reality has caught up with the future we imagined it would be. The year 2020 is still falling behind the futurism/cyberpunk movies of the 1980s.

 

JP: Where have you been during this year and what have you been making? Have you felt compelled to respond to current events, or do your responses remain more oblique and absurdist?

WP: I have been at my parents’ home, my studio and the restaurant downstairs from my studio. My diaries are empty pages, since I couldn’t go out.

Wong Ping

Wong Ping, video still from Wong Ping’s Fables 2 2019, single-channel video animation with sound, 13:30 min. Courtesy the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong / Shanghai; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles.

 

黃炳,《黃炳寓言(二)》錄像靜幀,2019,單頻有聲動畫,13分30秒。圖片由藝術家及馬凌畫廊,香港/上海;Tanya Bonakdar畫廊,紐約/洛杉磯提供

JP: The title of your film Wong Ping’s Fables 2 tempts us to look for moral guidance. But it unfolds with such delirious weirdness that the weirdness itself becomes the lesson. If people in the future were to look back on your fables as we look back on Aesop’s, what conclusions do you think they would draw about the world of 2020 and its people?

WP: For me, Aesop’s fables are considered timeless because they teach us lessons about fundamental moral values, like the need to be an honest person, a hardworking person, or don’t be greedy etc. In reality we have to make a choice. There are layers of barriers twisting and preventing us from getting there in this contemporary time. Those layers inspired me to write my own fables. These layers will become the fundamental values for humans in the future I think.

 

JP: ‘Optimistic pessimism’ is a phrase you’ve used to describe your position. Where between the o-word and the p-word would you currently place yourself?

WP: Given the political situation of Hong Kong, optimistic pessimism is only an excuse for me to stay alive.