Speaking to us through his flip up sunglasses, animation artist Wong Ping had just made his way back from London, where his latest solo exhibition is currently on show at the Camden Arts Centre. We sat down for an interview at the Edouard Malingue Gallery and talked about emotional noses with flashing lights, how his journey started with a bit of pointing and clicking, and the food he misses most when he’s not in his hometown of Hong Kong.
Camden Arts Centre’s Emerging Artist Prize
The prize was established in 2018 as part of the Centre’s commitment to nurturing and celebrating the most innovative artists of the moment, who have yet to receive the recognition their work deserves. The prize awards an artist exhibiting in the Focus section of Frieze London with an exhibition at Camden Arts Centre. The selection process does not involve applications from participating galleries. Ping was the recipient of the prize’s inaugural edition, and ‘Heart Digger’ was the result.
NONAGON.style: You just got back from London where you were setting up your exhibition Heart Digger. How do you feel about that?
Wong Ping: I feel great. I mean, sometimes when I do shows it’s always in a rush. And then I left right after. So I need some time to think about it. That’s always very rushed, the procedure. I’m not a very organised person, it was all very last minute, I was still setting up the show maybe one hour or thirty minutes before the opening! So everything was very quick.
You won the Camden Art Centre’s Emerging Artist Prize.
Yes, last year in Frieze London. In October.
How did they find you? How did that come about?
I think the prize is set up for an area in the Frieze Art Fair. I had a solo booth in Frieze London there. I wasn’t aware of the award, I think the [Edouard Malingue] Gallery helped me to submit that. I think that was the first year of the prize. I heard they would look at fifty booths in that area during Frieze Art Fair, and then they would have a look and research the artists’ work, and they had a committee to decide the prize. I think that’s where they found me.
And then the award is to do a show in the Camden Arts Centre so this year, July, I do it.
In your own words how do you describe your work?
Uhhh.. I always say it’s my diary, yeah. So it has a mixture of a lot of things. Just like you would write in a diary — like everything. It’s a mixture. I couldn’t describe what is in the video work… overall it’s like a journey of my daily life because I don’t have a particular interest or direction.
My medium is animation and video but the content — I always find that I don’t have a particular direction to focus on. So I couldn’t describe that much. It’s always changing, depends on my diary. I mean I don’t write! But I remember everyday life and whatever comes up to me in the future, and then I will make it into my work. It’s quite hard to describe.
How did you get into animation?
I used to have a day job in TVB. That’s how I learned the software, but I wasn’t using the software to do animation. I was doing post production for drama in TVB and then later on I just adapted the skills that I learnt from the software — and just do some simple drawing — combined with my writing that’s how I do my animation. But I don’t have any background on that.
What did you study?
Multimedia design. Multimedia design, as you can see, multi-media they try to teach you everything. Like a little bit of everything and when you graduate you realize you don’t know anything! Because you only know a little bit of everything. Basically.
How did you get from working at TVB to working with the gallery here?
Well first of all I wasn’t actually making animation. I was using another software called Illustrator doing drawings, but I don’t know how to draw. So one day after work I have to sit there [waiting to clock out]… so I just opened the software and tried a little bit of pointing, making simple shapes. Then I found that I can really make something out of this software, which is quite good! I get to pick whatever color I like. I quite enjoy that.
I started to make one drawing a day, but very simple one, because it’s only a simple shape. And then I [posted] online on Facebook and then an independent found me and texted me: can you do it as an animation using your style? Then I said, “Okay, I will try..”
I used the After Effects knowledge I got from work and turned the simple drawing, just moving it a little bit, and make the animation — and that’s how I started. I started to make more personal shots and I posted on Vimeo online. Then one day — you know Nadim? Nadim Abbas, another artist in Hong Kong — he had a show which is like an art bar project during Art Basel during 2014. … so I help him out and we work together for that project, and then I guess someone saw that from the M+ Museum. Yung Ma was the curator there in 2015. Then do you know Lee Kit and Chantal Wong?
Lee Kit is another artist in Hong Kong, and with Chantal Wong, they [had] a non profit space at the time. They opened the same year, 2015, so they saw my work in the M+ I guess, maybe online, and they they invited me to do a solo show. That was my first solo show, which was in Sham Shui Po. But now it’s closed. It was a very experimental fun space, so I did that and then I think Edouard Malingue saw that. And then they got in touch.
You had quite a journey from where you started out to where you are now.
Yeah, from my bedroom! Everything links. It’s quite.. I can call out each exhibition.. why, from where they saw it. That’s quite, it’s like playing a video game actually.
You feel like you level up each time?
Yeah, I mean I hope so. Not like [shows crashing motion]. Maybe soon I’ll need an extra life.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on so far?
I’m going to say the show that I did in Sham Shui Po because that was my first show that I have a lot of memories about. A lot of how do you call it… not inspiration, but it’s very different. I used to work in my bedroom, where I don’t have to face anyone or communicate or talk to anyone and then all of a sudden I have to deal with [a solo exhibition]. And that was the first time I did something outside of video. Installation of objects, physical objects, to apply in the space.
I still have no idea what is ‘the space’. But I realized […] I had to think “how do I use this space?” and that was the first time I heard of space and that kind of concept, so it was very inspiring and also scary. And lost. A mixture of different feelings.
I saw there is a sculpture in the corner that looks similar to the emotional nose.
Oh yeah, that was in the Sham Shui Po show in 2015, and then I remade it for the show I just had in January and made a bigger one. Like super big! Because I didn’t have the chance to do it during 2015. Because it was a small space and an independent non profit space, so not much budget. And you know I gotta do it bigger, so I wanted to recreate that so it will rotate and have the flashing lights with the eyes. I shipped the heart to Camden Arts Centre and then put it outdoors so it’s like a batman sign.
How much of your work is comedy and how much is art?
I’ve no idea. But I still don’t know what artist means so I wouldn’t call myself an artist. On my Instagram I said comedian. I find that my working process is quite like a stand up comedian; the process of producing the work is like I combine my observations of daily life and then I turn them into a script. And then I present it — but I’m too shy on stage so I prefer to do it in an animation. They are all punchlines and jokes but it’s quite dark. But at the end it’s not talking simply about a joke.
Are there some core messages you want people to come away with?
No. [My work is] like a mixture of my diary. Diaries don’t have something you want to tell… I just transform thoughts into a storyline and say it as it is. So whatever people take, I don’t really care because I think I come from the internet background so I don’t really care who’s the audience; everyone can be the audience. I don’t really like dogs but I always watch dog videos — there’s no particular audience in my mind.
Where are you living now, are you based in Hong Kong?
Yeah. Well before the [solo exhibition show in Kunsthalle Basel] in January I threw away 80% of my stuff and put the rest in storage in Hong Kong, and I’m just trying to live with no home now. When I arrived yesterday I found an Airbnb in Hong Kong. Then let’s say next month I have to do a show in New York, and I will just stay there for a while, or later in Shanghai. So I try to live like this. But I still am based in Hong Kong I guess.
Living like this do you have a special item that you have to help it feel like home?
No. I think that’s what I have figured out in this seven or eight month experience, I found that I don’t have anything… I don’t feel any belonging to anything or any person. That’s quite sad, but also it’s fine for me. That’s why I can throw things very easily. I don’t feel anything.
Maybe I have belonging to my Instagram account more than anything else. It’s more like an archive of my everyday life. But that’s also good for me so that I can travel.
What’s the one thing you always come back and eat when you’re in Hong Kong?
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length, and updated on 30th July to reflect that the exhibition runs until September 15.
Wong Ping (b.1984, Hong Kong) creates digital and sculptural works that reveal very human, and often universal fantasies, through absurd narratives. Drawing anecdotally from his own social encounters, he elaborates his stories into darkly humorous tales that touch on political and cultural anxieties. Digitally rendered in a seductive, technicolor language that recalls the modernism of Fernand Leger, the pop languages of Tom Wesselman or Allen Jones, as well as the design aesthetic of The Memphis Group and early 1980s video games, Wong’s simple but seductive animations disguise a deeper social critique of technological modernity.