A digital archive of Asian/Asian American contemporary art history

Wong, Paul

Other Names: Paul K. Wong


"The concept of paper for me needs to be addressed on several levels; embracing the papermaking process, its origin, and use in Chinese culture. I identify myself wearing many hats as an artist, hand papermaker, collaborator with other artists, educator, and in a more recent sense as a researcher investigating my own culture as a second-generation Chinese-American. All of these facets inform my relationship to Paper and how it functions in this recent work.

�Burning History� is a site specific installation operating on several levels of inquiry. Excavations of burial sites in early China have advanced our knowledge of her religious and sociological nature. The invention and development of paper in eastern Han (105 AD) created new ritualistic practice in ancestral worship by substituting wealth and acquirement with surrogates made of paper which were ceremoniously burned as representations of worldly status to sustain the needs of the departed in the afterlife. The annual ritual of burning 'money and necessities' to maintain one�s ancestral obligations has revived today having survived the attempt to eradicate the Confucian codes of the Past during the Communist Cultural Revolution. In the installation, I have transferred images of ancient Chinese funerary objects and other images representing centuries of style and custom onto paper laminates of partially burned joss papers, which are printed with charms and amulets or assume the role of 'sprit money'. Photo-copy transfers are done by hand, not unlike the ink rubbings of sacred steles, cave walls, and bronze vessels, soaking into the paper as a ghost like impression. Every day objects can also be found in Chinese communities fashioned out of paper for burning; anything from cans of beer, televisions, clothing, and cars, to gold ingots and computers. I have taken found objects upon which I have laminated paper to neutralize them and bring them into a kind of displacement from their real function and context. This paper skin functions as a filter absorbing the essence of the objects selected to represent two social extremes.

The installation is divided into two areas where 'possessions' are assembled for a Chinese peasant on one side of a curtain and for an emperor on the other. This comparison of class structure might suggest a similar relationship that continues into the Sprit World. It also might reflect upon the totalitarian authority of Communism, which still restricts personal freedoms today; an attitude ingrained in Chinese civilization sustained since the beginning of recorded history. The fist emperor, Ch�in Shih-huang-ti, united China at the cost of her people who suffered under tremendous restrictions and who were recruited into the construction of the Great Wall among other numerous 'civic' projects with a great loss of lives. Although there are references in the installation to specific emperors, my intent is to reduce or equalize the information represented into an analogous whole, likened to the formalism of altar arrangements in a Chinese temple."

Paul Wong on "Burning History", 1997

Gallery of Selected Works