So Are You
Paul Wong, 1995
single channel video, 28 min., colour, stereo
Once more racial and sexual stereotypes and prejudices are explored in this complex work, in which narrative fiction combines with licentious stories about racism or sexism told directly to the camera. The relationship between appearance and reality comes again into question. Without passing judgement the artist takes us behind the elaborate facade concealing our prejudices.
-Jean Gagnon, National Gallery of Canada, On Becoming a Man, 1995.
It was Paul Wong, Jeanette Reinhardt , Gary Bourgeois, and Gina Daniels who were on trial in the Vancouver media for Confused: Sexual Views, an installation which was pulled by the Vancouver Art Gallery when the Director cancelled the show claiming it was “not art”. Wong launched a losing lawsuit against the VAG for breaking their contract, but in the context of the 80s this was just one of the earliest cases in which aesthetic conservatism was used to protect high art from politics. The Confused controversy sparked action and organisation with the creation for the Coalition for The Right To View and in 1987 Sara Diamond and Karen Knights curated Visual Evidence which proclaimed the policy of Video In and Video Out to resist all attempts at classifying artist’s work and pointing out that classification is a means to silence alternative representations, particularly of sexuality and desire. Paul Wong’s SO ARE YOU looks into the mirror of cultural stereotypes, challenging us to consider how stereotypes come to shape our understanding of the world, and perpetuate racism and sexism. While cultural activism had by the mid-90’s raised many people’s consciousness about the politics of difference and that history had been written in the interests of the privileged, the 80’s saw the mobilisation of the notion of “political correctness” as the mirror image of tokenism – both means the cultural centres have used to silence dissenting voices – and in the 90’s charges of “pc” became a common way in which to silence dissent. Mobilising painful stereotypes and retelling the racist jokes by which privilege asserts itself, So Are You is without question “politically incorrect” if by this we are to include representations which repeat racist and sexist stereotypes. While many viewers question the effectiveness of Wong’s strategy in that the stereotypes and jokes reappear without any direct comment, it is paradoxically an example of the kind of work most quickly dismissed as “pc” (politically correct) – media which challenges the viewers, particularly middle class white viewers, to acknowledge and confront internalised racism, classism and sexism. The whole notion of “pc” has proven to be as effective as the tag of “not art” and “porn” in silencing voices which question the continuation of the status quo and challenge the claim that our society is a democracy.
– Excerpt from VOID, Curatorial Essay by Ken Anderlini (Nov. 2000)
Collections: National Gallery of Canada
Distributor: Vtape, Video Out