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Complicit Forgetting

Wang Tuo

Release year: 2019

Run time: 26'15"

Film type: single channel 4K video (color, sound)


Commissioned by Guangdong Times Museum for the exhibition "Forget Sorrow Grass": An Archaeology of Feminine Time in 2019, curated by Wu Jianru and Sirui Zhang. A writer with a writer's block and a woman secretly in distraught, try to heal the wounds in their memories unbeknown to others in their respective worlds despite living in the same room. This contemporary Chinese family, both real and fictional, is engulfed under an alienating atmosphere inhabited by both men and ghosts. In another scenario, a young red guard mistakenly enters a room piled with abandoned books and manuscripts, captivated from reading an ancient story, he suddenly hears the marching sounds outside the window and steps out of the door. This traumatic memory from a half-century ago has again come undone. A blueprint unique to Chinese stories, as distant and personal as it may seem, remains prevalent in those undetected phantom suffering and discretely hidden in the Chinese realities. The German scholar Aleida Assmann proposed the notion of Complicit Forgetting in Forms of Forgetting. According to whom, when the system attempts to destroy part of a memory from the past, its victims would often exhibit silence symptomatically. Their compounded silence becomes a kind of complicity. As the writer could not heal the wound in his memory through writing, those who share historical trauma would also fall into the unconscious collective silence, that eventually becomes ineffable. It festers over time, and metastasizes in emotional relationships. In the temporal and spatial dimensions where memories and reality overlap, the silence of traumatic experiences wanes from unwritten, unable to be written, and eventually becomes untraceable. Like the subtle relationship where man and ghost cohabit: the struggle between personal and historical trauma eventually becomes powerless, and their reconciliation becomes impossible.


Director biography

Wang Tuo (b. 1984, Changchun, China) interweaves Chinese historical facts, cultural archives, fiction and mythology into speculative narratives. Equating his practice to novel writing, he stages an intervention in historical literary texts and cultural archives to formulate stories that blur the boundaries of time and space, facts and imagination. Through film, performance, painting, and drawing, the artist’s work is a powerful examination of modern Chinese and East Asian history. The multidimensional chronologies he constructs, interspersed with conspicuous and hidden clues, expose the underlying historical and cultural forces at work within society. Embracing a uniquely Chinese hauntology, Wang proposes “pan-shamanization” as an entry point to unravel the suppressed and untreated memories of 20th century China and East Asia. Through historical inquiry, Wang’s works, often unsettling and dramatic, disentangle collective unconsciousness and historical traumas. Wang has recent solo shows at K21, Düsseldorf; UCCA, Beijing; Present Company, New York; Salt Project, Beijing; Taikang Space, Beijing, and recent group shows at M+ Museum, Hong Kong, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul; Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf; Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Baden- Baden; Queens Museum, New York; Kino der Kunst, Munich; Zarya Center for Contemporary Art, Vladivostok; Incheon Art Platform, Incheon; Power Station of Art, Shanghai; OCAT, Shenzhen & Shanghai; Times Museum, Guangzhou; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung. Wang Tuo was an Artist in Residence at the Queens Museum, New York from 2015 to 2017. He won the China Top Shorts Award and the Outstanding Art Exploration Award in Beijing International Short Film Festival 2018. Wang Tuo is the winner of the Three Shadows Photography Award 2018 and the Youth Contemporary Art Wuzhen Award 2019. He was awarded a research residency at KADIST San Francisco as part of the OCAT x KADIST Media Artist Prize 2020. In 2023, Wang Tuo won the Sigg Prize. He was shortlisted the K21 Global Art Award 2024.