Wu Tsang is a distinctive and versatile performer and film-maker who works with the relationship between voice, character and subjectivity. He has a developed a technique he calls ‘full body quotation’, which evolved from his training in bel canto opera. It allows him to re-constitute and re-embody a text in real time, as he receives it through an invisible earpiece, but with a voice and movements that take mimicry as far as possible to defy any notion of authenticity or authorship.
Wu Tsang’s work consists of many such acts that may be linguistically defined with the help of the prefix trans- (‘across’), such as transposition, translation or transgression. His own experience of being transgender underline this ‘acrossness’, but at the same time it demonstrates something else: the need to challenge the roles that language and legibility play for who is recognised as human. Wu Tsang’s art – not least the well-known feature-length film WILDNESS (2012) set in Silver Platter, a bar frequented by the Latin LGBTQ community in Los Angeles – might be seen as a re-tooling of identity politics for our times, as something we shouldn’t discard until it is safe to do so.
SHAPE OF A RIGHT STATEMENT
The work shown here was also recorded at Silver Platter. It formulates one of the ideas behind full body quotation: that new insight can be communicated through the de-subjectivation and re-contextualisation of existing statements. In 2007 Amanda Baggs, an activist for the recognition of autistic people’s rights, posted a manifesto on YouTube. In My Own Language has, to date, been watched more than one-and-a-quarter million times. Wu Tsang reperforms the second part of this video, in which a Speech Generation Device reads out in English what Baggs has been saying all along in her own language. In his rendering the subject speaks not for itself but through itself. The performer becomes a mere device, but tears keep coming to his eyes. The message speaks for itself, but at the same time it speaks up for others.(AK)