Nicholas Wong

Re: work

after Afterwork, an exhibition exploring issues of class, race, labor, and migration in Hong Kong, its surrounding region, and beyond

Proof 2: Santiago Sierra, La trampa (The Trap), Matucana 100, Santiago de Chillie (2007, photographic record/digital print on paper)

You will write a grant proposal to make yourself applicable
Because the hands are sometimes heavy, and you prefer
            to walk with certain lightness
A grant proposal after you are walked through a long wooden corridor
            then arrive at a stage of a grand theatre
with 186 workers gazing directly at you. An expectation to perform
            is the only means of communication there
You return the gaze. You see heads instead of faces
An empty seat in the middle of the crowd
You assume you will be asked to fill that seat, but no one speaks to you
Before you react better by remembering each face or how many
            cross their legs, you are asked to leave the stage
The corridor has changed. It now leads you to the street in its purest form
You are given the key to your car. You are thanked for your presence
The thanking does not help you remember the faces better than the empty seat
You, like a dreamer, see invisibility so clearly
That emptiness can be invisibility can be a metaphor for you
You will lurch into this absence by writing a grant proposal
            that eloquently examines the cultural anxiety of walking
how you wish to postpone the proximity made by each deliberate step
how getting closer to the workers distances you from them
To have a thought, there must be any object—
You will tell yourself there is language you should avoid to avoid sentimentality
            —obscuring faces, penetrating eyes, appall (in all forms and tenses)
You will want to use Akira Lippit’s theory about ‘avisuality’ to discuss your experience
will acknowledge politely like a trained puppy the artist’s invitation
            and the participation of the objects, by which you mean the 186 workers
The workers can be another invisibility, but not a metaphor for anyone
They are who they are, not going anywhere
You will remember the difference between ‘research subjects’ and ‘research objects’
You will decide to use the workers as an instrument for the research
            on your anxiety, which, by definition, will render them as objects
The fact that they are marginalized this way will entirely fit the concept of ‘avisuality’
            which is defined as the invisibility of an entity when it becomes too visible
Example: the whiteout brightness during an atomic bomb explosion
You will feel more grounded being the center of your work
Your work means a tenured position to apply for
Your CV will have a few rhetorical pauses, but not major obstructions
You will want your professional capital to be an intelligent chatter
This is exactly what I should proceed to do
The proposal will be reviewed by board members who know nothing about you
By not knowing anything about you, they sometimes say yes to what you submit
You will design a course and call it Culture and Walking. You will argue
            the corridor is a political site, not necessarily second to skin or membrane
You will write to the artist to see if he is willing to recreate the situation for your
Will show measured enthusiasm by signing the email Respectfully yours
Will emphasize for the sake of his convenience any 186 objects will do
Will emphasize the exact number is not a must same lighting not a must
            same walking pace not a must same visual order of politics not
            a must sweat not a must imagination and dissected memory
            not a must forgotten objects pried open not a must unloading
            morality not a must pleasure not a must thanking not a must art
            not a must the world not a must a world must not not what art must



Proof 5: Elvis Yip Kin Bon, If You Miss Home (2016, single-channel video)

This is your cultural capital speaking.
Shrouded in mosaics, timed
and spent by a video, what will

you do? Think, I will, the future
of my son. Your melancholy
is overbooked. We ask you to focus.

To practice:…bridge is falling down.
Downed ownership: What
will you do if you miss your family?

I will keep myself busy. Focus,
adjusted, falling down. But self:
Ah—This is cultural

capital speaking. Your self
is sublingual. Kalau tidak bobo:
If you are not sleeping, odd

your self out. Self in English only,
such as: wood and clay
will wash away. Such as R.I.P.

for self storage. Ah, I will hard work,
boy bared. It is human interest
to have verbs come first:

done work, bear this. Ah—.
Diaspora, prolific in bawling.
Infirm. Of it we don’t speak

much here. Though sere,
severed, focus. Even iron bars
will bend and break. What will

you do if you break? Photos,
wrinkles, blender. Remember,
no one expects shoes

to clean themselves. Ah—.
Self: neither an ad
nor a calling. To box it, we ask

you, what is worse than falling:
a floor that cants and can’t
refuse what falls.


Nicholas Wong is the author of Crevasse (Kaya Press), winner of the 28th Lambda Literary Award (Gay Poetry). His poems have recently appeared in Bellingham Review, Copper Nickel, Massachusetts Review, The Missouri Review Online, Tupelo Quarterly and Iron Horse Literary Review. A real Asian poet, he lives in Hong Kong, where he serves as an assistant poetry editor for Drunken Boat.