Wu Tsang

By
Photography Robbie Fimmano

Published February 27, 2012

Hosting is an essential ingredient in the work of Los Angeles-based Wu Tsang, whose films, videos, and performances are informed by the two years he spent running a weekly party called Wildness at a Westlake bar. Wildness became an international destination for artists and DJs, young and old, of all races, creeds, and gender identifications.

Born a man and maintaining the pronoun he, Tsang styles himself androgynously, purposely existing somewhere between straightforward, rote notions of masculinity and femininity. In fact, the half-Chinese, half-Swedish-American artist calls himself a “terrible drag performer,” and it was in a similar vein that Tsang’s weekly happening sought to capture some of that gender ambiguity. The bar where Wildness started, Silver Platter, operates as a safe space to many in the Latino trans community, people who fall somewhere on the LGBT spectrum but for whom, according to Tsang, “there’s no words for it.” It was in the bar, Tsang says, that their identities made most sense. “Inside Silver Platter, a lot of people feel very welcome,” says Tsang. “It has to do with queerness.”

After four years of production, the 30-year-old Tsang’s first feature film, Wildness, a documentary about the site of the party, will screen during the Whitney Biennial. Tsang’s other contribution to the exhibition is the Green Room, a transitional space on the museum’s fourth floor (which will, in large part, be turned into a performance hall) where performers will prepare and recover. The bar (referred to in the film as “he,” just like Tsang) is the protagonist and speaks mutely, using a neon sign for expression. The film traces the bar’s allegorical transition from macho guy hangout to a haven for its current, less eas- ily described clientele. “I had a preconceived notion that this bar was an authentic space—that it was this way always, like some mythical Stonewall,” he says. “It totally is, and it totally is not, because it has an evolving life.”

ABOVE: WU TSANG IN LOS ANGELES, JANUARY 2012. SHORTS: AMERICAN APPAREL. SHOES: CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN. COSMETICS: CHANEL, INCLUDING DOUBLE PERFECTION NATURAL MATTE POWDER MAKEUP SPF 10 IN SEPIA. HAIR AND MAKEUP: GLORIA NOTO FOR CHANEL/JED ROOT INC. SET DESIGN: LISA BAZADONA FOR MARY HOWARD STUDIO. SPECIAL THANKS: PIER 59 STUDIOS WEST.