If David Lynch and Wong Kar Wai came together to produce a bar the result might resemble the sumptuous aesthetics of Adrian Wong’s “Wun Dun”, an art bar installation produced for Absolut Art Bureau as part of the inaugural edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong (through May 22 – 25).
Although comparable to the above-mentioned filmmakers, the bar is of course an atmosphere entirely of Wong’s own. Wong’s installation revives, rekindles and re-imagines an older, more romantic Hong Kong of Suzy Wong, opera lounge singers and awkward waiters.
Located in the bar of the Hong Kong Fringe Club’s intimate basement, an animatronic backing band of furry monsters playing the piano, drums and contra basso on stage is a case in point. Such anima-bots have been used to great effect in Wong’s artistic practice and consistently challenge notions of culture, history and heritage with endearing irreverence.
The concept for “Wun Dun” reflects Wong’s background as a social scientist. The bar, which contains banquette seating popular in Hong Kong’s local “Cha Tsan Teng” (western-infused local eateries), is replete with fish tanks, another popular feature in Hong Kong’s local restaurants. The tanks include two fish species – the Silver Discuss Fish and the Arowana Fish – selected especially for their auspicious symbolism in the art of Feng Shui and are believed to positively affect spatial energies.
Wong’s intention was to revive a certain aspect of Hong Kong’s complex culture that he has situated in the Taoist concept of “Wun Dun”. He notes it “refers to the nebulous state of the primordial universe before the celestial and terrestrial realms were demarcated.”
Depending on the text or translation, the work references a “cosmic gourd” or deity who “looks like a yellow sack” with “six legs and no eyes” and is partial to singing and dancing. In light of this, after the operatic lounge singers’ performance each evening, Wong has invited performers to present a series of late-night sets. Included in the line-up is sound artist Alok Leung who will be re-mixing pornographic film soundtracks described by Wong as “immensely beautiful and pieces unto themselves”, and electronic music pioneer Christiaan Virant.
In all, “Wun Dun” is an oddball space where cultures come together and blend in surprising ways, not unlike the cocktails designed by Wong for the installation. Engineered in collaboration with Andres Basile-Leon, Wong has taken seemingly disparate ingredients and turned them into drinks that include a suitably bizarre Monkey-Picked Oolong Martini.
Visitors should also be aware that Wong handpicked his staff, with the doorman of his apartment, his long-time assistant, a local waiter and even a Star Ferry captain all drafted in to provide a certain kind of “anti-service”. Rumour has it, one staff member has been given instructions to kick people out at random, making even a trip to the bar unpredictable.
After all, at “Wun Dun” anything could happen. That’s the idea.
Adrian Wong was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois in 1980. Originally trained in research psychology he continued his post-graduate studies at Yale University, receiving an MFA in 2005. He is the co-founder and director of Embassy Projects, an arts consultancy and independent production studio. He splits his time between Hong Kong and Los Angeles, where he teaches sculpture and critical theory at the University of California, Los Angeles. Recent exhibitions include the traveling exhibition “Troglodyte See the Light,” “A Passion for Creation” for the Louis Vuitton Fondation pour la Création, and the Hong Kong Sculpture Biennial. His videos have been screened internationally at the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, LOOP Media Art Center, and Kunsthalle Wien.