Mak Ying Tung On Subverting Systems of Power and Oppression with Participatory Media Art

We're keeping our eye on Mak Ying Tung this year, whose double-edged multidisciplinary installations show both wit and gravity.

Image: Portrait of Mak Ying Tung.

Mak Ying Tung is a multidisciplinary artist with a wry sense of humour. Born in Hong Kong in 1989, she organised her first exhibition in 2012 at the School of Creative Media in her hometown. Featuring a range of installations involving stationery, highlights included “Everyone Makes Mistakes”, a compass that traced a square, and “I can’t live without you”, a calculator missing its equals button.

Following this, Mak developed her witty aesthetic further. In 2014 she got her first white cube solo show, “Almost Empty”, at Hong Kong’s Gallery Exit. Filled with party balloons, it was at once comic and emblematic of the frailty of human struggles. Exemplifying this was “No One Wins”, an office chair with a leg balanced on one of these rubber inflatables made of resin. Cheeky here, Mak underlined the instability our mortal existence – a theme that is personal to the artist. “For ten years, I used to be a very hardcore Christian,” she says. “I always felt that there was a part of me that couldn’t be fulfilled. When I stopped believing in Jesus, I got depression, a crisis of belief.” Juggling the competitiveness of Hong Kong’s highly commercial art market alongside the city’s steep cost of living, Mak copes by making absurd yet pointed artistic gestures.

Image: Mak Ying Tung. Film still, “Sound of music”, 2017.

In 2016, she formed the art collective Come Inside with Wong Ka Ying. Named after a statistic suggesting only 30 percent of women climax vaginally (“I am one of them!” she says), the collaboration acts as a vehicle for skewering stereotypes of Asian women. For instance, this October at Dallas’s Crow Collection, they staged an exaggeratedly slow game of tennis (the ball was attached to each racket by a cord) while dressed in pink tops and white school skirts. Exposing the fetishisation of adolescent Asian female bodies, it confronted the audience with pop culture’s inherent prejudices.

More of her rebellious spirit can be found in “We Are All Equal” (2015), a seven metre long shelf holding a neat row of various supermarket products. Contrary to the profit- boosting logic of consumerism, the selection of these items, and therefore their significance and value, was arbitrary but for the boxes’ sizes. “Those are probably standard,” Mak admits, when explaining she was trying to break free from supermarket buying algorithms. Nevertheless, the result of this arrangement speaks of the way in which consumption orders society – as well as the nearly-insignificant transformative potential of small acts of resistance.

Image: Mak Ying Tung, Installation View, “Sound of music”, 2017.

For Art Basel Hong Kong 2016, Mak was invited to show at Videotage, the city’s new media art institution. “They said they’ll provide a screen and a microphone, and I thought that’s perfect for a karaoke,” she recalls. Those were also the words that prefaced her karaoke performance during the fair, which was a year later transformed into “Sound of Music”, shown at Hong Kong’s De Sarthe gallery. Accompanying it was “You Better Watch Out”, an installation in which the artist filled a human-sized transparent sphere with small colourful balls and a mysterious QR code. When the audience scanned it with their phones, they were presented with live CCTV footage of themselves. “I wanted the work to be subversive and participatory”, she says. Hopefully Mak’s droll art will continue in the same vein.

Image: Mak Ying Tung, Installation View, “Sound of music”, 2017.
South Africa’s Gabi Ngcobo is Rejuvenating the 10th Berlin Biennale With a Touch of Deviancy