Video maker, interdisciplinary media and performance artist, curator, anti-censorship advocate. Once known as the “Chinese Canadian Warhol,” Vancouver’s prolific video pioneer, a founding member of Video In, has played off queer and Asian identities against both West Coast cultural politics and the international high art conceptual scene like no other for almost three decades. Wong’s 1976 60 Unit Bruise was made in collaboration with artistic partner and erstwhile “boyfriend” Ken Fletcher (1954-1978), a minimalist video performance showing an injection of the white, blond Fletcher’s blood spreading its colour across Wong’s back. When Fletcher committed suicide, Wong continued his engagement with body art and performance: In tens sity (1979) is a 23-minute video distillation of a five hours document of Wong’s Vancouver Art Gallery performance in a padded cell “trying to get inside [Fletcher’s] head space” (Milroy 2002), a shocking elegiac work of improvised corporal flailing.
Then identifying as bisexual, Wong became increasingly interested in sexual identities and lifestyles and his video installation work Confused: Sexual Views (1984), nine hours of twenty-seven people “yakking” about sexuality was meant to inaugurate the VAG’s new video space but instead became the decade’s most celebrated censorship scandal when the Gallery pulled the plug at the last minute, claiming the work was not art. The incident galvanized the arts community across the country, where other censorship battles were also waging in the context of an overall rightwing drift. The courageous and persistent artist sued, then lost the courtroom battle, but ultimately won the war, receiving the Bell Canada Award inVideo Art in 1992, a retrospective at the National Gallery in 1995 (“On Becoming a Man”), and a vindication exhibition at VAG in 2002.
Scarred by the Confused ordeal, Wong maintained his interest in sexual identity but at the same time intensified his interest in Asian Canadian arts and politics, curating the ground-breaking “Yellow Peril” touring exhibition of Asian Canadian film, video and photography in 1990-91. Racial and sexual issues come together in So Are You (1995, 28), which at the same time revives Confused’s fascination with talk and storytelling, and in Refugee Class of 2000 (2000), a series of anti-racism television ads, which also bring out the comingled presence of sexism and homophobia in the BC discursive atmosphere around immigration. The 1990s also saw Wong intervene as an AIDS activist in Blending Milk & Water—Sex in the New World (1996, 28), a documentary compilation of views of sexually diverse Chinese Canadians on AIDS and sexuality.
Wong’s description of “Yellow Peril” contributors can be applied to its author:
In retrospect they are the brave survivors of a generation that had to kick ass. Perhaps it is that drive that is at the very foundation of making art that attracts the so-called misfits and disenfranchised. It is those souls adrift and in search that often make the most worthy and brilliant statements of our time.” (1990, 12).