Patty Chang  |  The Product Love

May 1 - June 20, 2009

Shot in Hangzhou, China and Los Angeles, The Product Love gravitates around the meeting between Walter Benjamin and the Chinese-American film actress Anna May Wong.

In 1928 Benjamin interviewed Anna May Wong for the German literary magazine Die Literarische Welt. In the article Benjamin asks Wong, “With what form of representation would you express yourself, if film was not available to you?” The actress answers with the expression touch wood, as in the superstitious expression “knock-on-wood”, to prevent an unwanted event from occurring. But in the article, “touch wood” is printed in English as “touch would.” 

In one of the video projections of The Product Love , three scholars translate Benjamin’s article. Upon arriving to the “touch would” passage, each of them translates the phrase differently. “The translators’ confusion of touching as a form of expression brings to my mind the idea of sex workers’ roles as “professional touchers.” – remarks Chang—“It also problematically frames Benjamin’s Freudian slip as a subconscious desire for Wong, or more generally, the West’s subconscious desire for the East. In this context, the use of “professional touchers” could be stand-ins for Wong, and the use of translators could be stand-ins for Benjamin.” In the other video projection, Chang employs the cinematic conventions and codes of a pornographic film starring Wong and Benjamin in China. Die Ware Liebe was a working title of Bertolt Brecht’s play The Good Person of Szechuan (1943) –notes Chang- An ethical question behind The Good Person of Szechuan is how a person could stay “good” in a capitalist society (or, as they prefer to say in China, “market driven society”).

The actress who plays Wong in Touch Would is also a restaurant owner. She juggles her desire to be an actor with being a business owner within the changing economic landscape of China. By requiring Chinese television actors to perform the roles of Anna May Wong and Benjamin, the video reverses the common practice of early Hollywood of having all-white casts portray Asian characters in “yellowface.” It also situates the making of a pornographic film and soap opera within Wong’s authentic culture, thereby translating it from a Chinoiserie into a Western.

Patty Chang (San Francisco, 1972) lives and works in New York. Her work has been exhibited in international institutions and museums. In 2008 Chang was a nominee for the Hugo Boss Prize (Guggenheim Museum, NY). In the fall of 2008 Chang was the "Guna S. Mundheim Visual Arts Fellow” at the American Academy in Berlin.


Click here for the German press release