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PAUL WONG

“I was attracted to the video form from the very beginning.”

‘YEAR OF GIF’
‘FIVE OCTAVE RANGE’

One of the works exhibited at Shrine Gallery

‘FATHER`S WORDS 1964 AUGUST 24’

Part of the work that was exhibited at Shrine Empire, Delhi

‘MOTHER’S CUPBOARD: THREE MIRACLE WHIP JARS’
‘HASHTAG PLUS’

This was created in 2015

‘HASHTAG PLUS’

“When I looked at the symbol, which is the language also, it reminded me of Chinese calligraphy.”

WONG’S LATEST NEON WORK

‘Chinese Only’ responds to the discrimination of Chinese in Canada over the last many years.

‘ETERNITY’
Priya Ducommun from `FROM TO YOU` workshop
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Showcase 04 Jan 2019

CQ Interviews: Chinese-Canadian multimedia artist Paul Wong on video, neon, Instagram, and India

The Chinese-Canadian multimedia artist and curator Paul Wong has been creating works for ‘screens of all shapes and sizes’ since the 1970s. Prameya Art Foundation organized a month-long India tour for Wong that included a collaboration with Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore.

Integrating technology into his art, the Chinese-Canadian multimedia artist and curator Paul Wong has been creating works for ‘screens of all shapes and sizes’ since the 1970s. Having primarily started as experimental video art – ‘Mainstreeters’ tapes that revolved around a group of people in the Main Street neighbourhood of Vancouver, documenting their lives including forays into sex, love, drugs, and art – Wong’s works span various mediums including photography, GIF, neon art, installation, net art, among many others.

PAUL WONG

“I was attracted to the video form from the very beginning.”

 

Prameya Art Foundation organized a month-long India tour for Wong that included a collaboration with Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore.

Wong was in India for over a month as part of PRAF Participatory, an initiative by Prameya Art Foundation to commission art projects from invited international artists that are developed with the participation of local art students. During this time, an exhibition of his works ‘Private/Public/Lives’ was hosted by Delhi-based Shrine Empire gallery. A day before he headed for Kochi, where he was giving a talk at the Kochi Biennale 2018, Wong chatted with CQ over the phone about his work. Edited excerpts:

Since you work across a wide variety of mediums like photography, video, neon, installation, GIF, etc. (including a combination of mediums for a single project), do you have any personal favorite medium?

Paul: For me, everything began as a video and ended back on video screens. I was attracted to the video form from the very beginning because it could be colour or black & white; it could be long or short; narrative or abstract; the camera could be moving or fixed; documentary or staged narrative.

‘YEAR OF GIF’

I got into making videos simply because it was easy. You could just record and then deconstruct those elements into photography, audio, or just words. My other projects like photographs, performances, now GIFs, for example, started and ended up on video screens. My work is for screens of all shapes and sizes – from phone internet to huge architectural projections.

How was the experience of having your public artworks being adapted for a gallery viewing for your exhibition ‘Public/Private/Lives’ at New Delhi’s Shrine Gallery?

Paul: I am self-taught. I was also attracted to the video medium early on because it was sort of like television or an indie film, and had the potential for mass distribution. Video could be disseminated via making tapes, in cinema or in living rooms. Of course, we now have the internet and urban screens. I am still making works for public dissemination really. I have never been that interested in making artworks specifically for galleries. That’s why a lot of my work can be variable and I work in mediums that are very adaptable.

‘FIVE OCTAVE RANGE’

One of the works exhibited at Shrine Gallery

‘FATHER`S WORDS 1964 AUGUST 24’

Part of the work that was exhibited at Shrine Empire, Delhi

Of course, it’s great to see the work for the first time in its original context (like architectural projections), but great many of my projects can work again and again. I think that’s the beauty of working with digital medium.

“I got into making videos simply because it was easy. You could just record and then deconstruct the elements.”

What excites you about working with neon? And in particular about the old ‘#Hashtagplus’ artwork that so interestingly connects a (new) technology character to (old) language (#Hashtagplus could be read as a Chinese character or as a number sign, but it is the hashtag from Twitter)?

Paul: Neon is actually a very old electronic art form, that uses gas, glass, and electricity – which heats up and then these gases creates colours. It’s been around forever, and I always wanted to work in it. For me, neon is like drawing with light.

‘HASHTAG PLUS’

This was created in 2015

‘HASHTAG PLUS’

“When I looked at the symbol, which is the language also, it reminded me of Chinese calligraphy.”

‘#Hashtagplus’ was done about five years ago when everything was becoming a ‘hashtag’. When I looked at the symbol, which is the language also, it reminded me of Chinese calligraphy. I was interested in figuring out how to outline a character in neon.My most recent neon work is ‘Chinese Only’ which has two characters in Chinese only. Those who can read Chinese can recognise it. It responds to the discrimination of the Chinese in Canada over the last many years. I like working with symbols and language, and giving them ambiguous meaning.

“Of course, it’s great to see the work for the first time in its specific context, but great many of my projects can work again and again.”

Among other technology forms that are often integrated into your work, how has Instagram helped your work and its dissemination into the public arena? 

It’s been 11 years since I got my first iPhone and the apps along the way. Suddenly I was able to create and share my work on different kinds of platforms. Some of those platforms have influenced what I make based on their limitations or possibilities.

WONG’S LATEST NEON WORK

‘Chinese Only’ responds to the discrimination of Chinese in Canada over the last many years.

‘ETERNITY’

I like the fact that I can create something specifically for Instagram. For a crazy reason, I create different things for different platform. In my mind, I clearly see that some work is best suited for Tumblr, or something is perfect for publishing on Instagram and so on. So creating works for different types of galleries, works for different shapes and sizes of screens, creating small work and big precious works, and then creating things just for the internet – it’s all part of my creative program. I am conscious of the fact that the work I make for a gallery won’t necessarily work for the internet. And I have no control over  the internet stuff after I share it. So Instagram means sharing my work publicly, and then letting go of it.

What has inspired you during this India trip so far? Will we get to see anything translate into a new project?    

Paul: I have no idea what’s inspired me at the moment, as it’s way too soon. I don’t want to be a circus tourist. I am here to look, listen, and share. I have been shooting stuff, seeing stuff, and being challenged.

‘FATHER`S WORDS 1964 AUGUST 24’

Part of the work that was exhibited at Shrine Empire, Delhi

Right now, for my ‘FROM TO YOU’ workshop - part of the international series of artists collaborations with students and faculty Interim 2018 program at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore. Several weeks ago, they were asked to source original/authentic letters which were not written to or from them. And we have been constructing and deconstructing the idea and form of letters through a series of paintings, photographs, videos, mixed media etc. This was such an unexpected and extraordinary way to learn about their families and communities.

One student, Priya Ducommun, in particular got these letters which were associated with her adoption. She an Indian who was adopted by a Swiss family, and one of the letters describes the situation why she was up for adoption. Another is about her physical description as a kid, in sort of a very cold way. This has now been juxtaposed with a vivacious current self-portrait, full of color and laughter. That’s just one example.

To answer your question, I am listening, learning, and sharing my work. However, time will tell what impressions of this India trip I will have on my work. I just feel very comfortable and alive right now.

This interview was done on 11 December. Prameya Art Foundation invited Paul Wong to India as part of PRAF Participatory, an initiative to commission art projects from invited international artists that are developed with the participation of local art students.

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