|>surface* (usa) 09.02
Trigger Happy. He makes Philippe Starck’s work glow. He makes Burberry seem almost punk. And he makes you transform something mundane into the truly sparkling. Tobias Wong: The art world’s newest troublemaker.
“I’m definitely not scared of pissing anyone off,” says 26-year-old designer/artist Tobias Wong. Among the potentially offended: Design star Karim Rashid, who had the dubious distinction of publishing, in hardcover, his paperback ode to himself, I Want to Change the World, after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Wong took the book and carved it into a gun (that project was itself a riff on Robert The’s similar gutting of the Bible.) “I don’t necessarily go for Rashid’s work,” Wong says. “But I’m not against it. Changing the world after 9/11 seems hardly something you can do with design.”
Wong himself plans to address 9/11 more specifically with what he calls “a beautiful zinc-cast, chrome-plated box cutter,” part of the holiday collection from design frim Troy. The inscription? “ANOTHER NOTION OF POSSIBILITY.” If anything, it makes Zbigniew Libera’s recent, highly controversial ‘Lego Concentration Camp’ look like a whimsical lapse in judgment.
Much of Wong’s work is less overtly political, if equally confrontational. His ‘This is a Lamp’ is a Duchampian stab at Philippe Starck’s Bubble Club chair. Wong lit it within and displayed it a day before Starck unveiled his original version. After Burberry printed warnings in fashion magazines about infringing upon their trademark plaid, Wong made little Burberry plaid buttons and passed them around at openings. But the company out-foxed him by stealing the idea and selling the buttons themselves, this re-appropriating Wong’s appropriation. “I called up Burberry after I saw the buttons on a billboard,” Wong says. “I spoke to an executive there who said ‘We hope it’s okay that we copied you.’ I was thinking, ‘As long as you don’t sue me for using it in illegally in the first place, that’s fine.”
Not all of Wong's stuff is sampled from other people’s work: His silver pills – tiny capsules of silver leaf meant to be swallowed by the owner so that they could literally shit silver – are complete originals. “I wanted to make the grotesque beautiful,” Wong says. Plus, “starting out as a young artist, I need to grab attention.” No shit.
– William Van Meter