Billboard Series #14:
Evelyn Taocheng Wang
21/12/2018 — 21/03/2019
In her work, Evelyn Taocheng Wang (°1981, Chengdu, CN) connects personal memories and fantasies to larger themes such as identity, sexuality, ethnicity and gender roles. She addresses these topics through various media, like painting, video, installation and performance. In Frieze Magazine, art critic Amy Sherlock describes the core of Wang’s practice as dealing with “the idea that the body is culturally relative – that what it signifies shifts according to time and place.” Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s work is largely motivated by her interest in what constitutes identity, and how this relates to the body we inhabit.
A lot of Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s work develops out of her personal life. Her video The Interview, for example, developed out of an interview that Wang gave after being awarded the Dutch Volkskrant Art Prize in 2016. In the video, Wang looks at Dutch Golden Age paintings in the storage of the Franz Hals Museum, Haarlem, while discussing her first encounter with such paintings as a child. She explains how growing up in China, these paintings have influenced her conception of art and of Europeanness. In the video, Evelyn Taocheng Wang talks about her fascination for bodies in art. Throughout the film, we see a muscular male model wearing nothing but a black thong walking in and out of view of the camera. Wang integrated him in the interview because she wanted an image of a contemporary male body to be present among the historic female bodies depicted in the paintings at the museum’s storage.
Similarly, Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s ongoing series Massage Near Me developed out of the first job she had in Amsterdam while studying at the prestigious De Ateliers residency program. Wang financed her studies by working in an Amsterdam massage parlour as an undercover transgender masseuse. She quickly started exploring the parlour as a place where many paths, desires and people intersect. In this series, Evelyn Taocheng Wang shares her own aesthetic, intellectual, and sentimental experiences as a masseuse and those of her colleagues. Initially, sharing these experiences as Facebook updates with her friends, the dairy-like texts developed into a series of watercolours – with long titles in imperfect English such as A Hong Kong-Dutch Client Licking my Arm during the Massage treatment, or Tracy and Yang was kicking an older male client out, because of he was trying to jerk off on towel. While the texts – glued on the back of the paintings, or printed beside them in her book Unintended Experience – narrate these experiences through language, Wang’s drawings map out the scenarios pictorially. Throughout the watercolours, we meet the artist, colleagues and a variety of clientele seeking to fulfil different kinds of needs – as the location of the parlour on the edge of Amsterdam’s Red light district causes their clients to often mistake their work for sexual services. Massage Near Me again focuses on issues of gender, exotism and identity.
For our 14th Billboard Series, Evelyn Toacheng Wang presents a drawing entitled Frog Prince. The drawing plays a prominent role in her new video Three versions of change. This video reflects on mythologies of various origins that have been written, altered, edited, and retold over time in different cultural contexts. She particularly focuses on the well-known fairy tale of The Princess and the Frog. There are multiple versions of the story, but all of them relate to questions of transformation – from frog to human prince – and focus on the different identities connected to the bodies as they change one form to another. In the video, this idea of identity as something fluid and adaptable is developed over three different versions of the story.
The drawing on the billboard shows the artist laying down next to a frog and expressing how she would like her room to be decorated. She refers to a classic custom from the Chinese Ming Dynasty to alternate the light through different rooms, and decorate them with peaches and rice cakes. This architectural custom was popularised through the influential 1945 essay Written on Water, by the female Chinese writer Eileen Chang. Three versions of change is shown together with Hospital Conversations, a film Evelyn Taocheng Wang made on her iPad, showing numerous images and clips of Dutch architecture, hospital interiors, sewing & dressmaking, and the Maastunnel in Rotterdam. In the video, Wang talks about sewing clothes and architecture, as ways of changing old to new.
All images courtesy of the artist
Installation photography: Michiel De Cleene
Billboard Series is a long-term art project in public space, for which every three months an artist is invited to create a new, site-specific work for a 50 m2 billboard on Dok Noord, Ghent. Through changing presentations, Billboard Series wants to build a sustainable and productive dialogue with the surrounding neighbourhood and urban landscape, reflect on the changes that this neighbourhood is currently undergoing, and introduce a broad audience to different visual languages and ways of looking at the world.
Billboard Series is a project of artlead, together with 019. Billboard Series is curated by Thomas Caron, takes place within a scenography by architect Olivier Goethals, and is being developed with the support of the City of Ghent and the Flemish Community.