MEET SAFEMUSE'S NEWEST ARTIST IN RESIDENCE: WANG CHONG -- Ibsen, face masks and freedom to surf the Internet

November 10, 2022
A man of many talents: Wang Chong is Safemuse's newest artist in reidence. Photo: Zhou Jing / Courtesy of the artist.

A long-awaited arrival

Wang Chong is Safemuse’s newest and long-awaited second artist in residence of 2022. Wang was initially supposed to arrive in May around the same time as the first resident, Belarusian artist Zhanna Gladko, however obtaining a visa turned out to be a lengthy and unpredictable process. Safemuse was therefore very pleased to finally welcome Wang to our Oslo residence program in September.

— Working at Safemuse involves a lot of frustration; frustration over visa difficulties; over not having the opportunity to welcome more artists who need the kind of respite Safemuse can offer; and thereby the frustration of having to choose between a large number of highly qualified artists who really need to get away from situations that are difficult for us to imagine.

But it is also rewarding. Very rewarding and inspiring. When the artists arrive, watch them unfold and get the opportunity to work. Opportunities they don’t have at all where they come from, says Safemuse’s former general manager (now senior adviser), Jan Lothe Eriksen.

 

China’s most internationally-commissioned theater director

Wang Chong was born in Beijing in 1982. He received his bachelor’s degree in law from Peking University before he decided to pursue a master’s degree in theater from University of Hawaii. In 2008, Wang founded the Beijing-based performance group Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental (www.theatrere.org).

Wang has translated and directed Chinese premieres of internationally-acclaimed texts, such as Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine, Peter Handke’s Self-accusation, Sarah Kane’s Crave, Nick Payne’s Constellations, Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, and Woody Allen’s Central Park West.

Scenes from Wang Chong’s Made in China 2.0, the solo performance he might bring to Oslo in 2023. Photo: courtesy of the artist.
Scenes from Wang Chong’s Made in China 2.0. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Today Wang Chong is China’s most internationally-commissioned theater director and, so far, his works have been performed in 20 countries, including Norway at the Oslo International Ibsen Festival. Wang is happy to be in back in Ibsen’s homeland.

— Ibsen was part of our high school literature curriculum, and certainly essential to my theater education in the U.S. I started to work with the Oslo-based organization, Ibsen International, in 2012. Together with playwright Oda Fiskum, producer Inger Buresund, and dramaturg Hege Tørressen, we tried to bring most of Ibsen’s essence into one work, Ibsen in One Take, which was brought here in 2014 as part of the Ibsen Festival. I was commissioned by Ibsen International in the same year to direct Ghosts 2.0, an adaptation set in contemporary China. I hope that I can bring it too to Norway one day.

Wang Chong has an extensive and impressive artistic portfolio, and he is the recipient of numerous awards. Among his many productions, we find The Warfare of Landmine 2.0, which won the Festival/Tokyo Award; Lu Xun, which was noted as The Best Chinese Performance of the Year by The Beijing News; Teahouse 2.0, which won the One Drama Award; Waiting for Godot, a live online performance which has an audience of 290,000; and The Plague, a live online performance with artists working from six continents.

“Without the basic freedoms, I would not be able to learn, research, and experiment enough to come up with artistic concepts.”

Wang Chong

In 2014, Wang Chong presented Ibsen in One Take at the Ibsen Festival in Oslo. Photo: Lui Chen / Courtesy of the artist.
Scenes from Wang Chong's production Ghosts 2.0. Photo: Zhu Lei / Courtesy of the artist.

Face masks, firewalls and basic freedoms

After two years of Covid restrictions and a lengthy six months of awaiting his temporary visa for Norway, Wang finally arrived in Oslo on the 17th of September.

— Being stuck in one country for two and a half years, as an international artist, it was stifling. I was hoping to once again dive into the world and see how people and artists in Norway and other countries are coping with life and arts. The most important thing, he notes, is that I got out of the zero-Covid zone, expecting to re-experience what life can be.

— Although I was here in 2014, it was more of a cultural shock moment this time around. On day one, when I stepped into the Central Station, I saw hundreds of men and women from all walks of life. They were standing, running, talking, laughing, and eating, all maskless and fearless. I stood there, speechless, trying to make sense. When I started to understand the situation, I couldn’t stop laughing. I took off my mask. I became a new being on my arrival.

Looking back at his first few weeks in Oslo, Wang says:

— I have regained Google freedom, YouTube freedom, Wikipedia freedom, and Netflix freedom. These things are not something to talk about or worry about in the Norwegian context, but I have to say these freedoms are forming a new foundation to my creativity. Right away I started to learn and create with artificial intelligence. The booming field looks so exciting, when there is no firewall blocking your vision. So many apps, websites, and open-source platforms are out there. Without the basic freedoms, I would not be able to learn, research, and experiment enough to come up with artistic concepts.

— The residency has been great so far. I have been focusing on an artificial intelligence (AI) generated short film and checked out performances, museums, and hiking trails of Oslo.

“I have regained Google freedom, YouTube freedom, Wikipedia freedom, and Netflix freedom. These things are not something to talk about or worry about in the Norwegian context, but I have to say these freedoms are forming a new foundation to my creativity.”

Wang Chong”

Wang Chong’s artistic ambitions

Wang has large ambitions for the residency and his artistic plans include an AI-generated short film, a documentary film, and a new text for theater.

— I don’t want to spoil it by telling you how exactly the AI-generated short film would look like. What I can say is that I want to create an intriguing story about the future of humanity.

Wang’s ongoing documentary film project is titled A Director Sitting Still. It is about the life and death of Hu Bo, the young director of award-winning film An Elephant Sitting Still.

— In 2019 I started to ask, why did such a talented artist commit suicide at the age of 29? During the residency, I will focus on editing and post-production of the film. If you have not seen Hu Bo’s movie, I highly recommend it!

After arriving in Oslo, the city’s mayor Marianne Borgen invited Wang Chong to a meeting at the City Hall. Photo: Akari Izumi Kvamme / Safemuse

Wang is also working on his solo performance, Made in China 2.0. It will premiere in Boston before a world-tour. There is a possibility the piece will be shown in Oslo in 2023.

— Wang Chong is an artist who uses the newly acquired opportunities with great enthusiasm. And for us at Safemuse, the Norwegian art community and for the Norwegian public, it is a fantastic resource to have artists like this visit. We are very much looking forward to being able to present Wang on stage, and to get his look and his artistic approach to the themes he will present, says Jan Lothe Eriksen, before he continues: — At the same time, our guest artists are a reminder of what an incredible reality we live in here, compared to other countries and regions. Many thanks to Oslo municipality for making this program possible.

Safemuse’s residence coordinator, Jon Lundell, is also impressed by Chong’s artistic work and ambitions:

— Artistically, Chong stuck out from the vast number of applicants for our Oslo residence. I saw that his previous work and future plans are full of life, humor, creativity, experimentation and seriousness. He intelligently confronts difficult themes with a brave and open mind. This openness and interest of learning and meeting new obstacles professionally, is both inspiring and important in present and future collaborations. His interest in other people, their struggles and character also makes him humble and just a great guy to work with.

– –

For more information and artistic works, check out online articles on Wang Chong and his Youtube channel. 

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