Living and working between Berlin and Hong Kong, Isaac Chong Wai’s interdisciplinary approach spans site-specific performances, video, installation, painting and photography to probe knowledge systems, histories, continual societal shifts and global phenomena poetically and conceptually. Chong attends to the centrality of the body in shaping understandings of who we are and the world around us to explore themes dealing with powerlessness, violence, collectivism, leaderlessness and mourning.
In his 2015 video work Neue Wache (which translates as New Guard), we see the artist filmed from behind, breathing onto a pane of glass from the viewpoint of Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theatre, gradually obscuring the image of the Neue Wache building beyond and the renowned sculpture Mother with her Dead Son (1937–38) by Käthe Kollwitz that is exhibited inside. The Neue Wache was originally built in 1818 for Frederick William III of Prussia as a royal guardhouse and memorial to the 1813 wars against France. In the years since, the building’s memorial function was rededicated numerous times from the perspective of different political affiliations: it functioned as a memorial to the victims of the First World War, as a site for commemorative celebrations by the Nazi armed forces and, in East Germany, as a memorial to the victims of fascism. Since 1993 it has served as the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Victims of War and Dictatorship.
Chong’s edited video collects the traces of his breath on the window, eventually covering the entire scene. The work probes how, in the present, we continuously seek to preserve and commemorate the past.