Ming Wong: Learn German with Petra von Kant

Before the artist Ming Wong re-located to Berlin in 2007, he decided to learn German by immersing himself in the country’s culture. The result was a 10-minute performance tape, where Ming learnt the lingo from Rainer Werner Fassbinder, loosely autobiographical film, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

Believing that one of the best ways to get insight into a foreign culture is through the films of that country, the artist has adopted one of his favourite German films as his guide, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) by Fassbinder, about a successful but arrogant fashion designer in her mid-thirties, who falls into despair when she loses the woman she loves.

Putting himself in the mould of German actress Margit Carstensen in the role of Petra Von Kant - for which she won several awards - the artist attempts to articulate himself through as wide a range of emotions as displayed by the actress in the climactic scene from the film, where our tragic lovesick anti-heroine goes through a hysterical disintegration.

With this work the artist rehearses going through the motions and emotions and articulating the words for situations that he believes he may encounter when he moves to Berlin as a post-35-year-old, single, gay, ethnic-minority mid-career artist - i.e. feeling bitter, desperate, or washed up. („Ich bin im Arsch”)

With these tools, he will be armed with the right words and modes of expressions to communicate his feelings effectively to his potential German compatriots.

Since then, Singapore’s foremost artist Wong has continued with his examination of “the performative veneers of language and identity, through his own World Cinema,” going on to use Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life to question ethnicity and identity.

Life of Imitation was commissioned by the National Arts Council for the Singapore pavilion in the 53rd Venice Biennale. Re-staged at SAM with a new design and additional works, it will thereafter tour other cities.

Re-inventing a Hollywood drama on racial identity by Douglas Sirk, the film — set up with two screens showing the same film simultaneously — evokes a peculiar sense in the viewer.

The film’s main protagonist are a black mother and her mixed race daughter who denies her mixed origins and pretends she is white. Initially denying her visiting mother an intimate meeting, she eventually breaks down in her mother’s arms.

Through the powerful images and execution of concept, Wong also attempts to erase the different ethnicities by having three male actors from three ethnic groups in Singapore take turns playing the black mother and her mixed-race daughter, with the identity of each actor changing after each shoot.

This year, he re-visualized, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema in the work called, Devo Partire, Domani (I Must Leave, Tomorrow). The title is taken from one of the few lines spoken by Terence Stamp in the film, whose arrival into the home of an upper class Milanese family, alters their lives. 

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.

Ming Wong will be speaking at the BFI’s Afterimage event, in London, on 6 November, and then taking part in the Myths of the Artist Symposium at the Tate Modern London on 20 November.

Bonus clips from Ming Wong, Petra von Kant, plus interview after the jump

Posted by Paul Gallagher
11:58 am