Annie Wong | WORK IN PROCESS


L.C. Why do you make the work that you do, what compels you to make it as personal as it is? Is there anything that would stop you from making work in this manner?

A.W. I don’t think one needs to be compelled to tell personal stories – the impulse is innate, but what I think is critical is a sense of reciprocal readiness. I can explain this by contextualizing my own fairly recent move towards making my work personal. Previously, I had positioned my practice squarely in the social, and I was mainly interested in imagining public spaces as sites of micro-intimacies. Over time, however, I felt the polite conviviality typical of relational work was no longer relevant in a contested public sphere highly charged by the urgent voices of social movements. The rigor of collective organizing reflected in the Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, and the #MeToo protests is a more inspiring transformation of public space, for me, than an impromptu potluck-cum-art installation.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a free cup of soup made with love from my community, but there is something sublime about the mass collectivity of these recent protests that moved me – somewhat ironically – inwardly, and I began looking to those singularities that make up the larger resistance BIPOC body-politic, and to those micro-politics in everyday life as a site no less charged. In the current political climate, I feel there is a need to be honest about how we feel and transparent about where these feelings come from. The political-is-personal mantra, a de-facto reality for artists of colour, echoes in my mind, but I think there is something unique about the political protests of my generation of BIPOC that has created – or is at least trying to create – a moment of careful attentiveness, ultimately allowing us to share our individual vulnerability.

Sharing, here, is the operative term that I feel can be a potential gesture of allyship towards building trust. I would not have felt as supported or as compelled, say, in the last decade, to imagine that my personal experience was worth being told, or that it could function as a type of bridge. It requires more than courage to speak from that place; it necessitates receptiveness from the other side, having either a body that carries similar stories or at least knows how to hold them once they are heard. Perhaps this is a circuitous route around the word empathy, a word I am reluctant to use because it is a concept too complete, however complicated.






 
What is that unique quality of our generations’ political protests that compelled you, and many others, to share their truths? Is our ability to organize and galvanize support in non-physical spaces a key component, coupled with increased visibility in those spaces?

I am in awe of the robust organizing afforded by social media, but I think there is something unique about the mass mobilization compelled by very personal, intimate and vulnerable stories extracted from everyday life. Perhaps this is not different from other historic protests (of which I am still learning), but there is a contrast with other protests that imagine and speak to a generalized public, like Occupy, for instance. I, of course, stand by the anti-capitalist effort behind this movement, but there is a particular, distinct effect generated from personal accounts of the daily injustice experienced by BIPOC – and more specifically, Black and Indigenous lives. Movements which center these voices and these lives are complex in their ability to foreground an intersectional framework, and to demand a way of thinking about allyship and the nuances of power in everyday life. These tools of negotiation simply aren’t articulated the same way when Occupy, for example, confronted a complex system of corruption entangled with issues of race and gender.
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How much of yourself do you put into your work? How do you set boundaries, if any, between your personal experiences and what you choose to share with the public in your work?

Collaboration forms the basis of much of my work, so how, and to what extent I share my vulnerabilities informs the boundaries of the collaborative process. Sometimes, my own voice may be imperceptible in a public presentation of a project, but the process of creation deeply involves my very being. Research for We’re Winning No Comment, for example, involved three weeks of reading misogynist comments online. For the entire month I moved through the world carrying so much anger. I got into fights with men in my life. I distrusted the mailman in my neighborhood. I became more afraid of men at night. The work had no boundaries in my life, which is the cursed nature of art.

That said, I develop projects in response to deeply personal questions that sometimes require voices beyond myself to fully understand them. I often invest myself in others with the risk and hope that they will reciprocate. For example, I collaborated with Sister Co-resistor, an intergenerational collective of BIPOC women, to create a response to Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: Poems for a girlhood, a narration of the murder trial of Reena Virk. Over the course of about three months, we shared intimate stories and personal reflections of gender-based violence. There was a lot of anger and sadness that had to be processed collectively and in ways that allowed for a curative sharing. This was a vital process in the making of the performance, which in the end centered on rituals of care rather than our own personal narratives.

I’m not satisfied with a singular voice and strive to create a context in which many personal narratives intersect with or run parallel to not only mine but many in the room. A cacophonous performance is more interesting than a harmonious one. On occasion, I might omit myself altogether from the work to give space to my collaborators, who are sometimes non-artists, in an effort to centre their voices. I do this not to be generous or to shy away from my own vulnerabilities, but because sometimes it is necessary to step aside and listen.

 



 

What happens to the anger (or sadness, or other emotional pain) you carry around with you to make a work? Is there a sense of catharsis once it gets released into the public, do you metabolize it to create more work, or does it always stay with you?

I really like your use of the word “metabolize” to think about this process because often it is emotions that consume you and seldom the other way around. I don’t trust a work of art that promises cathartic release from caustic emotions, but metabolism is an interesting concept because it invokes a bodily process that could be truly ameliorative, especially in the case of anger. I echo Audre Lorde: “Anger is loaded with information and energy.” To release these vital resources in a process of catharsis is a waste. So much can be learned from anger. It needs to sit with the body, metabolize, become part of your blood stream, and move through your bowels. This, of course, is no easy feat. Learning how to metabolize anger is practically learning how to shit like a goddess. I am still learning.
 

How has your life changed since you started making personal work and sharing it with the public?

I feel honest and soft. It’s a state I’m still getting used to, but it feels right.
 


L.C. Why do you make the work that you do, what compels you to make it as personal as it is? Is there anything that would stop you from making work in this manner?

A.W. I don’t think one needs to be compelled to tell personal stories – the impulse is innate, but what I think is critical is a sense of reciprocal readiness. I can explain this by contextualizing my own fairly recent move towards making my work personal. Previously, I had positioned my practice squarely in the social, and I was mainly interested in imagining public spaces as sites of micro-intimacies. Over time, however, I felt the polite conviviality typical of relational work was no longer relevant in a contested public sphere highly charged by the urgent voices of social movements. The rigor of collective organizing reflected in the Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, and the #MeToo protests is a more inspiring transformation of public space, for me, than an impromptu potluck-cum-art installation.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a free cup of soup made with love from my community, but there is something sublime about the mass collectivity of these recent protests that moved me – somewhat ironically – inwardly, and I began looking to those singularities that make up the larger resistance BIPOC body-politic, and to those micro-politics in everyday life as a site no less charged. In the current political climate, I feel there is a need to be honest about how we feel and transparent about where these feelings come from. The political-is-personal mantra, a de-facto reality for artists of colour, echoes in my mind, but I think there is something unique about the political protests of my generation of BIPOC that has created – or is at least trying to create – a moment of careful attentiveness, ultimately allowing us to share our individual vulnerability.

Sharing, here, is the operative term that I feel can be a potential gesture of allyship towards building trust. I would not have felt as supported or as compelled, say, in the last decade, to imagine that my personal experience was worth being told, or that it could function as a type of bridge. It requires more than courage to speak from that place; it necessitates receptiveness from the other side, having either a body that carries similar stories or at least knows how to hold them once they are heard. Perhaps this is a circuitous route around the word empathy, a word I am reluctant to use because it is a concept too complete, however complicated.

What is that unique quality of our generations’ political protests that compelled you, and many others, to share their truths? Is our ability to organize and galvanize support in non-physical spaces a key component, coupled with increased visibility in those spaces?

I am in awe of the robust organizing afforded by social media, but I think there is something unique about the mass mobilization compelled by very personal, intimate and vulnerable stories extracted from everyday life. Perhaps this is not different from other historic protests (of which I am still learning), but there is a contrast with other protests that imagine and speak to a generalized public, like Occupy, for instance. I, of course, stand by the anti-capitalist effort behind this movement, but there is a particular, distinct effect generated from personal accounts of the daily injustice experienced by BIPOC – and more specifically, Black and Indigenous lives. Movements which center these voices and these lives are complex in their ability to foreground an intersectional framework, and to demand a way of thinking about allyship and the nuances of power in everyday life. These tools of negotiation simply aren’t articulated the same way when Occupy, for example, confronted a complex system of corruption entangled with issues of race and gender.
Image
How much of yourself do you put into your work? How do you set boundaries, if any, between your personal experiences and what you choose to share with the public in your work?

Collaboration forms the basis of much of my work, so how, and to what extent I share my vulnerabilities informs the boundaries of the collaborative process. Sometimes, my own voice may be imperceptible in a public presentation of a project, but the process of creation deeply involves my very being. Research for We’re Winning No Comment, for example, involved three weeks of reading misogynist comments online. For the entire month I moved through the world carrying so much anger. I got into fights with men in my life. I distrusted the mailman in my neighborhood. I became more afraid of men at night. The work had no boundaries in my life, which is the cursed nature of art.

That said, I develop projects in response to deeply personal questions that sometimes require voices beyond myself to fully understand them. I often invest myself in others with the risk and hope that they will reciprocate. For example, I collaborated with Sister Co-resistor, an intergenerational collective of BIPOC women, to create a response to Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: Poems for a girlhood, a narration of the murder trial of Reena Virk. Over the course of about three months, we shared intimate stories and personal reflections of gender-based violence. There was a lot of anger and sadness that had to be processed collectively and in ways that allowed for a curative sharing. This was a vital process in the making of the performance, which in the end centered on rituals of care rather than our own personal narratives.

I’m not satisfied with a singular voice and strive to create a context in which many personal narratives intersect with or run parallel to not only mine but many in the room. A cacophonous performance is more interesting than a harmonious one. On occasion, I might omit myself altogether from the work to give space to my collaborators, who are sometimes non-artists, in an effort to centre their voices. I do this not to be generous or to shy away from my own vulnerabilities, but because sometimes it is necessary to step aside and listen.

What happens to the anger (or sadness, or other emotional pain) you carry around with you to make a work? Is there a sense of catharsis once it gets released into the public, do you metabolize it to create more work, or does it always stay with you?

I really like your use of the word “metabolize” to think about this process because often it is emotions that consume you and seldom the other way around. I don’t trust a work of art that promises cathartic release from caustic emotions, but metabolism is an interesting concept because it invokes a bodily process that could be truly ameliorative, especially in the case of anger. I echo Audre Lorde: “Anger is loaded with information and energy.” To release these vital resources in a process of catharsis is a waste. So much can be learned from anger. It needs to sit with the body, metabolize, become part of your blood stream, and move through your bowels. This, of course, is no easy feat. Learning how to metabolize anger is practically learning how to shit like a goddess. I am still learning.

How has your life changed since you started making personal work and sharing it with the public?

I feel honest and soft. It’s a state I’m still getting used to, but it feels right.




ANNIE WONG | Annie is a multidisciplinary artist, community organizer, and writer. Wong uses various platforms of participation, social engagement, and collaboration to explore the intersections of the poetic and political in everyday life. Wong has been presented by The Gardiner Museum, The Art Gallery of Ontario, Gallery 44, Intersite: Visual Arts Festival (Calgary, AB), and Third Space (Saint John, NB). Wong’s writing can be found in Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Canadian Art, Performance Research Journal (UK), and MICE Magazine. She holds a BA with Honors in English and a MA in Communication and Culture at York University. | anniewong.co

ILLUSTRATIONS | Wenting Li
ANNIE WONG | Annie is a multidisciplinary artist, community organizer, and writer. Wong uses various platforms of participation, social engagement, and collaboration to explore the intersections of the poetic and political in everyday life. Wong has been presented by The Gardiner Museum, The Art Gallery of Ontario, Gallery 44, Intersite: Visual Arts Festival (Calgary, AB), and Third Space (Saint John, NB). Wong’s writing can be found in Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Canadian Art, Performance Research Journal (UK), and MICE Magazine. She holds a BA with Honors in English and a MA in Communication and Culture at York University. | anniewong.co

ILLUSTRATIONS | Wenting Li
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