Installation view of NICOLE WONG’s “After Nothing Happens,” at Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, 2020. All images courtesy the artist and Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong / London. 

Reconsidering Failure: Nicole Wong’s “After Nothing Happens”

Rossi & Rossi
Hong Kong

When something goes wrong, is it an example of failure, or rather a sign of faulty expectations? This question formed the crux of Hong Kong artist Nicole Wong’s six-work solo exhibition at Rossi & Rossi, “After Nothing Happens,” which sought to redefine notions of failure and functionality.

Disillusionment flooded in as one entered the gallery, where Beethoven’s somber “Moonlight Sonata” emanated from a player piano (Étude, 2019–20). However, the tune is disjointed: one can almost envision the pianist’s fingers stumbling across the keys, missing and repeating note fragments. Inspired by her neighbor’s piano practice, Wong invited pianist Erikson Ting to reproduce the music, with the insertion of deliberate mistakes. Hung on the walls were transcribed music sheets with detailed markings that document Ting’s note slips, uneven triplet patterns, and other deviations from the original score. Through these meticulous but static and visually uninteresting pages, Wong alludes to the monotony of practice, a mistake-filled period that nevertheless must precede a “perfect” performance.

Installation view of NICOLE WONG’s Étude, 2019–20, auto playing piano, recorded midi file on floppy disk, dimensions variable, at “After Nothing Happens,” Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, 2020. 

Wong similarly deconstructs the binary of perfect/imperfect in Still Fountain (2020), this time by carefully undermining the functionality of an everyday object. The freestanding bookshelf features raised-edge shelving units filled with reflective pools of ink that blend in with the dark-matte finish of the metal structure. Stripped of its ability to fulfill its intended function, the shelf now serves only as an artwork. This form-function subversion is also evident in the five bulletin board cases of Dark Waters (2020), whose original contents are replaced by black, lustrous fabric evoking liquid. On the glass panels are texts etched in white about mythical beings and places related to water, including the River Styx; the Scottish nocturnal water fae, Ashray; and the Chinese goddess of reincarnation, Meng Po, who prepares the “Bittersweet Broth of Oblivion” for dead souls. Wong thus bestows an air of mystery to the otherwise dull display cases, filling them with stories instead of boring notices. In both works, Wong illustrates how objects can be “functional” within different contexts, gaining value in the realm of contemporary art even as they lose their domestic utility.

“After Nothing Happens” was a subtle reminder to reorient our perspectives, and find value in the unexpected and imperfect.

Installation view of NICOLE WONG’s Still Fountain, 2020, metal bookshelf, ink, 180 × 200 × 30 cm, at “After Nothing Happens,” Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, 2020.
Installation view of NICOLE WONG’s Still Fountain, 2020, metal bookshelf, ink, 180 × 200 × 30 cm, at “After Nothing Happens,” Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, 2020.

Charmaine Kong is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

Nicole Wong’s After Nothing Happens” is on view at Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, until August 1, 2020.

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