Wong Ping’s Absurdist, Sexual Animations Deliver Biting Commentary

Kelsey Ables
Aug 16, 2019 6:02PM

Wong Ping, still from Who’s the Daddy, 2017. Image courtesy of Edouard Malingue Gallery and the artist.

If you turned the most unspeakable late-night Google searches into film, you’d get something along the lines of Wong Ping’s narrative videos. Confessional and vulnerable, Wong’s story lines evoke a Reddit user pouring his heart into a flickering computer screen from a dingy basement. Take for instance his film Who’s the Daddy (2017), which begins with a quote from Yahoo! Answers, a place where some of the most forbidden digital inquiries live.

During the film’s opening, we see the quote: “in a civilized society, a perfectly straight penis simply does not exist.” It’s an excerpt from a post that asserts all penises bend to the right or to the left. Like all of Wong’s work, what at first seems lewd, proves to be layered with meaning. Sex, Wong explains, is the medium he uses to “bring out the story line” in his work; but it is never the final message. The Yahoo! Answers post made him think of the present political situation in his hometown of Hong Kong, where people are divided over issues like the autonomous region’s relationship with an increasingly authoritarian China. Between political opinions and penises, Wong found a surreal symbolic unity: There is only right or left.

Wong Ping, stills from Who’s the Daddy, 2017. Image courtesy of Edouard Malingue Gallery and the artist.


Wong, now in his mid-thirties, says he “lives in the internet.” His work, which comments on everything from police practices to Crocs (“disgusting flat shoes”) is a product of an internet where news alerts pop up next to cat memes, and where porn can live in one browser tab, while an email to your coworker lives in the next. Wong takes this digital cesspool, and packages it in lo-fi, retro video game aesthetics that are hard to reconcile with the dark themes—self-loathing, misogyny, obsession, and lust—he explores. Beneath a façade of juvenile, cartoony simplicity, Wong’s work, like the internet itself, flattens the personal, political, and sexual into one shared space. In doing so, he tackles questions of shame and power, luring viewers in with salacious imagery, keeping us enraptured with bubbly aesthetics, and driving his point home with subtle but cutting political commentary.

Wong started making videos while working a tedious day job in post-production television. He needed a creative outlet. After spending 10 hours per day smoothing skin and enlarging boobs on commercial film footage, he went home and taught himself animation.

Installation photo of Dear, Can I Give You a Hand?, 2018, film, and The Ha Ha Ha Online Cemetry Limited, 2019, toy dentures, in “Wong Ping: Heart Digger,” at the Camden Arts Centre, 2019. Artwork © Wong Ping. Photo by Luke Walker. Courtesy of the Camden Arts Cent

His neurotic characters are comprised of simple circles and rectangles in glowing neon hues. They occupy distinctly urban spaces: sleek interiors that evoke the feeling of alienating high-rise apartments. Pixelated ’80s video games meet millennial-style ombrés in a sublime, minimalist design that Wong has attributed not to aesthetic preferences, but to an inability to make anything else.

Wong first started gaining a following by posting his videos to Vimeo and later to Youtube. His work, which revels in the kind of extremeness fomented on Youtube, is as much a product of the internet as it is a commentary on it. In Dear, can I give you a hand (2018) an aging man attends a class on how to post your last words to social media to “get many likes.” In Inspector Chicken (2018), a police officer becomes a social media influencer. When the cop checks how many likes his live stream of a rescue mission is getting, it instigates a chain of events that results in the death of his entire squad. In Who’s The Daddy, the narrator is shocked to realize that swiping left and right on dating apps is not to indicate political preferences but, rather, to say whether or not he finds someone attractive. Wong’s work can only come from someone fully immersed in the social dynamics of 2019: The narrator in Who’s the Daddy goes on to question whether a dating app suitor has biodegradable breast implants and how to tell from her profile picture if she eats free-range chicken.

Wong Ping, stills from Wong Ping’s Fables 1, 2018. Image courtesy of Edouard Malingue Gallery and the artist.

At once, licentious and naïve, aesthetically simple and emotionally complex, Wong’s short films pushed him from the depths of the internet onto international art stages. The New Museum featured him in their 2018 triennial and his work has been acquired by the Guggenheim. And this year, he had a solo show at Kunsthalle Basel and was picked up by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York (he also shows with the Hong Kong– and Shanghai-based Edouard Malingue Gallery). Wong, who has no background in art and only recently learned what the Guggenheim is, likens the experience to winning an Oscar and responding, “who is Oscar?”

Wong is also the Camden Arts Centre (CAC) in London’s inaugural Emerging Artist Prize winner. CAC director Martin Clark said it was a unanimous decision, citing Wong’s “directness, voice, freshness, and urgency.”

Wong Ping, stills from Wong Ping’s Fables 1, 2018. Image courtesy of Edouard Malingue Gallery and the artist.

That voice and urgency are surely indebted to Wong’s process. The artist, who identifies as a “comedian,” says he “always has no plan,” and his subject matter is his lived experience. When friends poked fun at his ripped jeans, he wrote Cow the Super Rich (2018). The story follows a cow who amassed a fortune selling ripped jeans to customers trying to brand themselves as rebellious. And after overhearing men constantly refer to their partners as “angels,” Wong wrote Doggy Love (2015), about a woman who has boobs on her back that transform into wings.

Most recently, in response to the Hong Kong protests, Wong decided that the massive giraffe installation he made for the CAC show would be a portal from Hong Kong to the U.K. He added a new wall text the day before the show opened. “It’s always about what’s the news coming up the next day or the gossip in the restaurant from the table next to me,” he explained. “If I have a show coming up, it’s like a diary. I have to wait for the world to give me something. I don’t have any direction.”

Wong Ping, stills from Wong Ping’s Fables 2, 2019, single channel video animation, 13 min. Image courtesy of Edouard Malingue Gallery and the artist.

Wong is not afraid of creating work that’s shocking or unsettling. From his perspective, today, the bar for what is “too much” is high. “We are living in the internet age,” he said. “We can see every different kind of twisted, weird thing online.” His stories are bizarre, even disturbing, often featuring creepy men divulging their desires in long monologues. In Stop Peeping (2014), an apartment tenant becomes so obsessed with his neighbor he sneaks into her living room, collects her sweat from soiled exercise clothing, and makes it into popsicles which he then proceeds to eat.

Wong Ping, stills from Wong Ping’s Fables 2, 2019, single channel video animation, 13 min. Image courtesy of Edouard Malingue Gallery and the artist.

Through psychosexual themes, Wong explore power dynamics. Who’s the daddy closes with a song about “loving and kissing your daddy passionately.” And it’s not difficult to interpret its allusions to the authoritarian state in Hong Kong and China. When Wong speaks about Hong Kong, he refers to it as orphaned. It is like they were, “dumped by the parents before and now we have new parents that we are not close to,” Wong said of the hand-off from the U.K. to China. In Dear, can I give you a hand, the link between the sexual and the political is more explicit: The narrator discovers his pirated VHS porn was taped over footage of the 1997 Hong Kong handover ceremony, when the regal affair interrupts a sex scene.

Recently, Wong has been interested in moral dilemmas, particularly those born of the current era. “I cannot apply the moral lesson from the old-time fables into our modern world,” he said, nodding to classics like Grimm’s Fairy Tales. In Tree, a short from his film Fables 1 (2018), an animated tree—a stand-in for Wong himself—sees a pregnant elephant with a cockroach crawling on her. This sends the tree down an anxiety spiral. He wonders, should he tell her? What if she freaks out and has a miscarriage? What if her scream causes the driver to veer off-road and kill pedestrians? Overwhelmed by the decision, the tree says nothing and goes upstairs. It’s not unlike social media, where so often discourse takes precedence over action, all while creating the illusion of progress.

“lts like the situation in Hong Kong or in the internet age,” Wong explained. “We discuss a lot. We have to consider everything. In the end, maybe the situation got even worse or didn’t move at all.” Tree ends on a bleak note to all of those sanctimonious tweeters: “To all righteous thinkers,” Wong writes, “perhaps it is worthwhile to spend more time considering how meaningless and powerless you are.”

Kelsey Ables