STOP10 Nov 2017: 'Making Chinatown' by Ming Wong @ Cinerama

The Singapore Art Museum is opening a new show entitled Cinerama: Art and the Moving Image in Southeast Asia, featuring works by 10 artists and collectives. This show will examine the moving image and its various forms in Southeast Asia, casting a glance at its history in the region and where the moving image may go next. 

One of the works featured in this show is by Singaporean artist Ming Wong, entitled Making Chinatown. Ming Wong is best known for recreating seminal films, casting himself in all of the roles. This piece is perhaps particularly special as it is a reworking of Roman Polanski's Chinatown, set in Los Angeles, the birthplace of Classic Hollywood Cinema. At the same time, this Polanski's film is revelatory of the contentious ways in which Chinese culture was represented at the time. Here, we interview Ming Wong to find out about what he hopes to accomplish by reviving this film in today's context, and placing himself in all of the roles. 

Why did you choose to reinterpret this particular film, Roman Polanski's Chinatown? What is the significance, in particular, of exhibiting Making Chinatown this time around in Singapore?

I was invited to make an exhibition at REDCAT in Los Angeles, located near the old Chinatown of LA.  The decision to re-interpret Polanski's Chinatown was a kind of tribute to LA as the city of cinema par excellence, and all the meanings associated to memory, myth, cultural legacy, location that Cinema carries.   Polanski's Chinatown was not only the story of Los Angeles as city, but the legacy of a cultural reading of Chinatown and Chinese-ness associated with classic film noir and a period of yellow peril and discrimination against the Asian community at the time.  I was attempting to bring back the "Chinatown-ness" in a contemporary reading of this Hollywood classic. I hope Making Chinatown would provoke audiences in Singapore to reflect on nature of cultural identity and in particular Chinese identity and its place in a broader collective imagination.

I imagine in the process of creating Making Chinatown, you'd be wearing many different hats - that of the actor, the director, but also that of the artist. Could you elaborate on your artistic process and how it informs the work you do?

I play all the roles, not just of the actors, but of the producer and director, and often costume designer, set designer, cameraman, editor, etc.  My role as the artist, is to be everybody everywhere and in so doing erasing myself completely as a person. Perhaps only the artistic voice remains.

In this piece, which role was your favorite to impersonate and why?

The complex vision of Faye Dunaway as the femme fatale Evelyn Mulwray is inscribed into cinematic pop history. I could allow myself to add further layers to her hidden identity of wife/lover/mother/daughter/sister in her role.

How does this piece represent your growth as an artist?

It was an eye opening experience to make this work referencing cinema in Los Angeles the mecca of cinema. As an artist working with performance and moving image, I had first-hand experience in all the various elements of putting together these illusions, from locations to costumes to cameras to casting, etc.  But beyond that you realise how these dreams form our own sense of self and where we belong to, how these notions of who we are are totally and easily manipulated, and how often we do not realise it.

As we enter the 21st century and the balances of power between USA and China continue to shift, what can we infer from the line "Forget it, it´s Chinatown". Stereotypes and new and old tropes of cultural identification continue to evolve and enmesh with past, present and future.  Which side of Chinatown do you stand on?  Perhaps the shadow of Chinatown enters your path. Who are looking for or who are you running away from?  

You can catch Ming Wong's work alongside works by nine other artists and collectives at Singapore Art Museum's new show, Cinerama: Art and the Moving Image in Southeast Asia. The show will open on 17 November and will run until 18 March, at SAM at 8Q. 

Ticketing details here.

Interview by Tanvi Rajvanshi

For the full list of November 2017's 10 films under STOP10, click here.

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