WANG TUO: (Mandarin) The keywords of this series are ‘aftershock’ and ‘here and now’. The concept of ‘aftershock’ actually pertains to how we perceive the history of our current time and place. I began my artistic practice as a painter, but in the process of painting, I slowly discovered that different problems require different weapons to solve. It was probably then that I felt video might be a good idea.
Painting and video share many commonalities. How do we get to the point in discussions? We could add a buffer, a middle ground between a conclusion and how it’s discussed. The buffer is a pathway for viewers to gain understanding. Video and painting share similarities in this regard.
This project is titled The Northeast Tetralogy. It consists of four video works. I embarked on this project with inspiration drawn from my hometown in northeastern China, where there appear to be a lot of shamanic activities. Shamanism has given me inspiration of sorts. This shamanism is not shamanism related to religious fundamentalism. It’s more like a view of history extracted and rendered abstract. So, I transformed it into what I call ‘pan-shamanification’, a mechanism that tries to solve present problems.
When a person is troubled by uncertainty and unsolved problems in their space-time, can they become conduits? Their bodies could become gateways for souls from other dimensions, bringing alternative experiences and perspectives to help resolve their problems. For this project, I’ve put all four works into the same space like mountains piled upon each other. When you’re in the mountains, the complete view remains hidden from sight. The feelings these segments evoke may become your imagination of the mountains.
But the timeline of The Northeast Tetralogy starts with the May 4th Movement in 1919 and ends in 2019. The first chapter, Smoke and Fire, is about the 2018 killings in China committed by [convicted murderer] Zhang Koukou, who was sentenced to death in 2019. These killings to avenge his mum’s death undoubtedly broke the law. On the other hand, many people felt Zhang stood for a tradition now lost in China, a hero archetype that hadn’t shown its face in a long time. In the later stages of creating this work, the character Zhang led me to certain concepts, including appearing later in Distorting Words.
While filming Guo Qinguang, I wanted to find a setting similar to this. A young student finds a tree by a lotus pond and then hangs himself. In the last hundred years, these historical moments seem to be caught in a time warp and, in the end, become entangled. A line in Tungus describes something like my experience in different time and space in history.
In Tungus, the protagonists are two Korean soldiers. They participated in the Chinese Civil War. During the same time, in their homeland, the Jeju Uprising is happening. The final chapter, Wailing Requiem, felt like a parallel metaphor to make. Wailing Requiem takes seeds planted in previous chapters, stylistic relationships that couldn’t be clearly referenced and removes the veil between them.
In my work, people grapple with the dilemmas of their particular time and space in history. I use these dilemmas and organise them unrelentingly because when we look at history, we, too, feel pessimistic. Despite all their efforts, their problems could not be solved swiftly and promptly. Yet, by building upon our predecessors’ foundation of toil, we continue to try to solve the problems we face here and now. We may realise that we are situated in one of history’s aftershocks, and our present situation and actions may one day, too, become an aftershock.
In his films, Wang Tuo combines the forms and techniques of interviews, reality shows, and theatre to create a moving sense of melodrama. Wang’s stories focus on our contemporary experience and often employ literary and art-historical allusions to expose the humorous and sometimes absurd aspects of society. He examines how our lives, myths, and cultural histories often intertwine in complex and ever-evolving ways. His practice also seeks to develop a discourse on how current ideology is derived from its historical context even as it continues to adapt to the changing times.
In The Northeast Tetralogy, which is on show in the Sigg Prize 2023 exhibition, Wang presents the similar fates of multiple protagonists who occupy different time periods across four chapters. Based on the 2019 case of convicted killer Zhang Koukou, the opening chapter, Smoke and Fire, follows a migrant worker who returns to his hometown to avenge his mother’s death. The second chapter, Distorting Words, re-enacts the experience of Guo Qinguang, a patriotic student in the May Fourth Movement of 1919. Tungus, the third chapter, is a complex narrative featuring the deathbed confessions of an elderly intellectual who has been living alone following the siege of Changchun in 1948 during the Chinese Civil War. The confessions are interwoven with the portrayal of Guo and other progressive students. The final chapter, Wailing Requiem, shows the life of the migrant worker from the first chapter told through recollections of his housemate.
Together, these four chapters blend historical and fictional events to offer perspectives on how we evaluate histories that seem to repeat themselves.
- Produced by
Moving Image Studio
Kenji Wong Wai Kin, Angel Ng Wan Yi
- Director of Photography
Rex Tse, Ip Yiu Tung Zachary
Fred Cheung, Lau Tsz Hong
- Transcript and Translation
- M+ Video Producer
- M+ Curatorial Research
Isabella Tam, Ariadne Long, Chloe Wong
- M+ Text Editing
Amy Leung, LW Lam
- Special Thanks
Wang Tuo, Chris Sullivan