One characteristic feature of historiography is that it continually overrules itself: In line with views of the respective present, the past repeatedly appears in a new light.¹ When Isaac Chong Wai moved from Hong Kong to Germany in 2013, the omnipresence of a history that was not his own overwhelmed him.² Chong’s work, which revolves around issues such as imprisonment, borders, victimization, and oppression, painfully alludes to our ‘narrow acts of remembrance’³, but is at the same time reconciliatory and optimistic: ‘History is the investigation of the past with its power to affirm and define evolution and progress of human life.’⁴
In November 2015, the artist was injured in Berlin in a hate crime in Berlin when he was assaulted with a glass bottle. As evidence of his injury, he took his Self-Portrait. Later, a friend warned him: ‘the world is not your friend’. Rejecting this determined pessimism, Chong turned the negation into an open question.⁵
For his Project PRISON the artist built a life-size boat from the wire fence of a former Weimar prison. He then carried the unseaworthy boat across the city and back to the prison. In using a material that initially held prisoners captive, he created an object suggesting the fragile possibility of escape. In the paintings of the series LINES, he again adopts the wire fence as a motif. On closer inspection, the lines hardly touch each other. The concept of the border remains a fragile one.
1 See: Lotte Laub, ‘Isaac Chong Wai. What is the future in the past? And what is the past in the future?’ Introduction by Lotte Laub, in: Isaac Chong Wai: What is the future in the past? And what
is the past in the future? Zilberman, Berlin, p.26.
2 See: Caroline Ha Thuc, ‘Versöhnung mit einer lebendigen Vergangenheit über nationale Grenzen hinweg/Reconciling a living past across national frontiers’, in: ibid., p.80.
4 Isaac Chong Wai, WHAT IS THE FUTURE IN THE PAST? AND WHAT IS THE PAST IN THE FUTURE? Creating Time in Public Space through Performance, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar,
Masterarbeit/Master’s thesis, 2016, p.70.
5 See: Is the World Your Friend? Isaac Chong Wai 29.1.2019 – 9.3.2019, Press release 26.01.2019, Blindspot Gallery