Michael Tong


Participation and Function are the underlying themes of my work. In many ways functional objects and social spaces used in a ceremonial context have influenced our cultural and social behaviors. The primary focus of my work has been to establish connections between objects and spaces to their ritualistic and social purpose.
Beginning with the Buddha Head installation where I welded an oversized steel head that also served as my shelter. As part of the piece I lived inside the head for five weeks during the exhibition “Let the Artist Live” at Exit Art.
Ultra-Pro operated with a certain degree of tongue and cheek. Derived from a useful object that is used in social activities, in this case the “Barbeque” I handmade a stainless and bronze Charcoal Grill and used it in many different social gatherings. The viewer by participating in an environment of leisure and pleasure reenacts certain social rituals thus became a passive consumer and a major part of the work's completion.
Tea House Project was an installation where I created a social space as a place for people to meet, rest and drink tea. Eight different kinds of tea were served in the Tea House. People were encouraged to relax, take the time to talk and lounge around the space. The act of tea drinking was then transformed into a situationist play of being.
The Divine Fortune Teller, I sat inside a self-constructed temple just big enough for two people and gave Oracle readings to who ever came inside the space. Separated by a curtain I cannot see the participants. Using a method of dividing fifty sticks and referencing The I Ching or Book Of Changes, I consulted each participant about their future and directions they should take in life.
From the series of work titled Heavy Medallions (Malcolm X, Ben Franklin, Yasir Arafat) viewer participation is also critical. In this case I want to include the audience as part of the work's resolution by asking them to wear the Medallions around their necks as a performance. I want to push the breakdown of art with its public to a different direction by incorporating an obvious format of Hip Hop culture. The medallions represent the gold and diamonds accessories (BLING) that signify power and success. Yet I want to subvert it by situating it as a fetish of popular and political culture that equally thrives on symbols of the ruler and the ruled.
As an artist who is engaged in the processes of interactivity and connectivity, I define my work as a form of "post political cultural service". What unify my works are their functional qualities and the experiences for which they create for my audience. They operate on cultural assumptions as well as trying to engage the viewer as a critical and crucial participant that confronts norms of art while redefining the boundaries of social spaces and rituals.

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