Shotgun Review

24 Hour Exhibition: Making Chinatown

By Joshua Kim April 8, 2013

As part of its “24 Hour Exhibition” series, the Kadist Art Foundation invited the curator of Redcat Gallery, Aram Moshayedi, to discuss Ming Wong’s Redcat-commissioned work, Making Chinatown, a seven-channel video installation that responds to Roman Polanski’s seminal 1974 film, Chinatown. Wong used backdrops digitally stitched from the original cinematic space and filmed Making Chinatown (2012) entirely at Redcat, transforming the theater and exhibition space into a studio back lot. For the Redcat show, Wong’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, which included painting, sculpture, video, and projections, he portrayed Los Angeles as a shape-shifting city and examined the original film’s use of language, performance, and identity.

At the public conversation at Kadist, Moshayedi revealed the critical origin of Wong’s concept by screening a clip from Thom Andersen’s video essay, Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003). The context of the water wars and historical cinematic fiction gave insight into Wong’s fascination with Chinatown as a void in which things or people are forgotten. In Making Chinatown, Wong channels themes of sex, race, and class by reenacting the roles of four characters from Chinatown originally played by Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, and Belinda Palmer. Wong occupies all film noir archetypes simultaneously—protagonist, femme fatale, villain, and victim—a zoetrope of identities, to focus on one subjective identity: the artist.

As we experience the pillow talk of Wong as both Gittes (Nicholson) and Ms. Mulway (Dunaway), his actor roles collapse and we are confronted by his artist role: as a taped-up, transgendered figure in bed with a handsome but disfigured Asian male.

Ming Wong. Making Chinatown, 2012 (still); seven-channel HD video installation with sound. Courtesy of the Artist and the Kadist Foundation, San Francisco.

Here we encounter readings of such roles beyond the film that disrupt fixed ideas of sex and racial performance. Wong also reenacts my favorite scene, in which Gittes’s nose is mutilated by an enforcer played in a cameo by the director Polanski in the original, and played by the curator Moshayedi in Making Chinatown, which is a satisfying boon to the cinema and art historians.

Making Chinatown stirs an internal deconstruction and searches for an epistemic conclusion of identity. Wong is the artist. However due to his onscreen reinventions, ontological differences between persona and character arise when he plays the protagonist, femme fatale, villain, and victim. Chinatown, Los Angeles, and Wong’s roles are subjective identities spinning out of sync, like noir narratives. If you expect conclusive answers, you will be left wanting.


24 Hour Exhibition: Making Chinatown was on view at Kadist Art Foundation, in San Francisco, from March 20 to 31, 2013.


Joshua Kim will soon start his residency at Kala Institute, where he will be reconstructing Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial through the eyes of Roland Barthes and will begin shooting his first 3D remake. Kim is a finalist for the ACAC Writing Fellowship.

Comments ShowHide