In a brightly decorated bedroom, a man and a woman are having intercourse on a narrow single bed. The woman is bent over and the man is half-kneeling behind her. Dressed in neon green stockings, both of their faces are of the same shade—sweet yet expressionless, as if they were wearing masks. Their sexual organs are, to say the least, colorful and hugely exaggerated; their repetitive body movements are deliberately in sync with the melody from an electric guitar, laced with lyrics of a sexual nature.
If you think this seems naughty and strange, maybe even obscene, you are not alone. This is the highly stylized, animated wonderland constructed by Wong Ping, where innocence and desire coexist comfortably without contradiction. Trained in multimedia design in Australia, Wong is a young Hong Kong animator and illustrator. Slow Sex, the 2011 music video, makes a Cantonese pun on the word Halloween, a tongue-in-cheek reference to a 24-hour slow sex day on October 31.
Although a regular fixture on the international film festival circuit and the local publishing industry, Wong remains a relatively unknown entity in the contemporary art scene. In recent years, his steady creative output, including live-action video among other formats, has resulted in a body of work with a unique and recognizable visual aesthetic: intentionally flattened and knowingly low-tech, achieving a retro quality that is somehow reminiscent of old-fashioned cartoons, yet oddly futuristic. His recurring use of bright, almost neon palettes alongside geometrical shapes, as well as short, round characters—what could be called cute—convey a surrealism that is apt for today. Wong marries this imagination with our everyday reality, a reality that appropriates and builds on his experiences in Hong Kong; see, for instance, the white bed sheet with tiny red hearts from Slow Sex, an instant signifier that recalls a very particular kind of living space of the city—public housing.
This rootedness in place moves beyond visual motifs and metaphors. In the music video Under the Lion Crotch (2013), for the local indie band No One Remains Virgin, little people wearing vests reading “I Heart HK” and “HK Hearts You” are skipping rope on a beautiful island when they are suddenly attacked by a monster, an alien that looks something like a lion. When heads begin to explode, the ensuing graphic but nevertheless child-like violence and sex quickly transform the joyful beginning into a dystopian nightmare. They fight hopelessly until the island is completely destroyed by a pool of blood from a giant zombie. Accompanied by critical and poignant lyrics, the work engages with Hong Kong’s rising social inequality via the housing crisis and economic monopoly, directly addressing the growing resentment towards conglomerates and property developers.
This sense of hopelessness is shared by his most recent work, The Other Side (2015). Commissioned by M+ for the “Mobile M+: Moving Images” exhibition (curated by the author of this piece), the two-channel installation depicts one man’s unwilling journey from being born into the world to attempting to reenter his mother’s womb. This, too, can be read as a reflection on the changing status quo of Hong Kong. It is also apparent, however, that Wong’s dystopian outlook and fear of uncertainty resonate on a much larger scale, illustrating a universal and perhaps acutely urban condition of contemporary life.
While Wong’s more recent works take on a darker tone, his consistently cheeky sense of humor and vivid visuals remain. As his (and maybe also our) deepest desires unfold in front of our eyes, increasingly complex, almost hypnotic graphics present an otherwise cheerful façade that draws viewers into his carefully constructed wonderland. It is strange or outrageous? Bordering on the ridiculous? Possibly obscene? The answer is yes to all of these, but this is what makes his animations so wonderfully delightful.