Installation view of WONG WAI YIN’s “Without Trying” at Spring Workshop, Hong Kong, 2016. (Left) Don’t Resist the Lightning, 2016, stainless steel, 185 × 8 cm; (Right) Wish You Were Eternal, 2016, wood, 170 × 170 × 108.2 cm, 136 × 136 × 86.6 cm and 102 × 102 × 64.9 cm. Courtesy the artist and Spring Workshop. 

Without Trying

Wong Wai Yin

Spring Workshop
Hong Kong

Hong Kong artist Wong Wai Yin has collected many new experiences in the past five years. She became a first-time mother and underwent personal and professional changes. The experience of motherhood transformed her life so much so that Wong took time away from her art practice to focus on her son. During this time, she realized that there was nothing more terrifying than giving birth and being responsible for another person; and now, entering this new chapter in her life, there was nothing else she feared. Feeling empowered, Wong faced some long-standing fears and self-imposed obstacles. Upon being invited by Spring Workshop to embark on a two-month residency, Wong chose to reflect on this journey. What once caused her anxiety—new opportunities, public speaking, dogs and social expectations, to name a few—became the inspiration for her new body of work shown in “Without Trying,” her first solo exhibition after a five-year hiatus.

WONG WAI YINReborn Every Second, 2016, still from video: 33 sec. Courtesy the artist and Spring Workshop, Hong Kong.   

WONG WAI YIN, Seeing the Sunrise from the West, still from video: 38 min. Courtesy the artist and Spring Workshop, Hong Kong. 

The first work to greets the viewer is the black-and-white video Reborn Every Second (all works 2016). The video shows the artist’s lifeless body lying face down on the floor. Her “spirit”— a translucent, ghostly Wong—emerges from the physical body, a sign of rebirth and new beginnings. This work stems from Wong’s engagement with Spiritual Response Therapy (SRT), a technique that taps into the subconscious mind in order to find the root of one’s behaviors and attitudes, seeking to reframe these in a positive manner. Here, Wong connects the SRT skills that she learned with her own life, describing her stint away from artistic practice as one which led her to shed the baggage of her former life and walk into a new era of possibilities. Also emphasizing Wong’s newly-assumed outlook is the video installation Seeing the Sunrise from the West, where a reversed real-time recording of the sunrise from her apartment window is screened on a white fabric. Wong has deliberately flipped the recorded imagery so that the sun appears to be magically emerging from the west, symbolizing the artist’s belief that possibilities are endless.

The centerpiece of Wong’s exhibition, Wish You Were Eternal, is an installation of three wooden pyramids entombed with broken fragments of works made between 2006–13. With artwork storage being particularly expensive in Hong Kong, galleries have often suggested to Wong that it would be cheaper to throw away and then later reproduce her works than to pay for storage, an option the artist never considered due to her emotional attachment to the pieces. In conceiving this exhibition, Wong saw an opportunity to recycle these works. Pieces of her former installations, paintings and sculptures became materials for a new creation, in much the same way that moments in Wong’s life were reconfigured, marking her personal transformation.

While some works in the show present her new self and forward-looking attitude, there are others that reveal her process of overcoming challenges by allowing her to face them head on. Without Trying, a series of watercolor posters which visitors can flip through, reveals thoughts that once plagued Wong, paralyzing her from seizing opportunities. Sloganized here, “Pretend To Be Busy,” “Don’t Be Naive,” “Don’t Compete With Others” and “Live in Someone’s Shadow,” mimic the artist’s inner critical voices that are perhaps present in all of her previous artmaking and artwork. Similarly, in the video Clearing Ten Thorns, Wong stomps on various food items that are used to represent established ideologies such as “patriarchy,” “cynicism,” “bandwagon effect” and “hierarchy.” These objects, which include a banana, a blueberry, a piece of spam, are quashed literally as a way to purge them from Wong’s belief system.

Through these pieces, Wong actually prepared herself to do what she has been dreading and most afraid of, which includes singing in public and learning a foreign language. This moment of readiness and realization is humorously captured in Don’t Resist the Lightning, which consists of a neon orange lightning bolt suspended from the ceiling, the tip marking exactly the height of the artist. To activate the work, Wong, or the visitor, is meant to walk underneath the bolt to create an image of it striking the individual. In a sitting area toward the further end of the exhibition area, visitors are encouraged to pick up a headphone to listen to an audio recording of the artist singing in French Le Tourbillon, the classic love song from the 1962 movie Jules et Jim. This work This Song Makes Everything Bearable, is a testament to Wong’s newfound attitude of confronting fears; at the same time, she also picked up a new hobby of playing the ukulele, the strummings of which now accompanies her singing voice.

WONG WAI YIN, Without Trying (detail), 2016, watercolor on paper, 89.8 × 64.9 cm. Courtesy the artist and Spring Workshop, Hong Kong. 

WONG WAI YIN, Opening All the World’s Doors, 2016, keys, key box and key rings, d: 122 cm. Courtesy the artist and Spring Workshop, Hong Kong. 

Sparked by her experience of motherhood, Wong’s perspective of her art practice and personal life are no longer bound by feelings of insecurity and anxiety. Entering this new chapter in her life, Wong expresses, through these works, that the process of learning and experience is more meaningful than the final result. Toward the back of the exhibition space is a ring made of 8,000 keys from around the world dating from the 1800s to the present, which leans against a red box containing the one key that can open the box’s lock. This cyclical work returns the visitor back to the ideas of rebirth and renewal that introduced the show, a gentle reminder that we are always in motion and can start anew.

Wong Wai Yin’s “Without Trying” is currently on view at Spring Workshop, Hong Kong, until October 16, 2016. 

Sylvia Tsai is associate editor at ArtAsiaPacific.