Ping Chong and Company has always been a welcoming home for artists, mentoring and training many generations of artists over the years. In 2018, we began to explore how to deepen our commitment to providing holistic support to artists and the generation of new work building on our archival body of work.
Ping Chong’s short play, Nocturne in 1200 Seconds was originally created in 1998 for a curated festival in Hong Kong. The work is dark and unflinching, conveying a human capacity for cruelty and destruction. It is composed of found text covering different historical events and atrocities, and performed by two otherworldly figures removed from reality. The script originated out of a set of parameters issued by a concept driven festival in which 12 Chinese diasporic artists—filmmakers, visual artists, playwrights, directors and choreographers—were commissioned to create short works. In late 2019, we invited a group of artists to create short plays inspired by the original Nocturne in 1200 Seconds script, and utilizing the same set of parameters that Ping had been given to create his piece in 1998. Each artist was asked to identify source material tied to a real historical event, which served as a stepping stone for each piece.
Originally titled Nocturne in 2020, the anthology evening of new works was planned for an April 2020 premiere. In late March 2020, we indefinitely postponed the performance run due to Covid-19 closures. Creative meetings and development of the works continued online. The artists created short, virtual pieces, with new parameters that invited them to focus on creative responses to COVID and protests for racial justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Each artist responded to the challenges and limitations of a life “in quarantine” drawing from historical source materials and their personal experiences, and leaned into creative opportunities using the available tools: iPhone cameras, computers, animation, photoshop, and video editing software to create these new works.
When it became clear that the remainder of 2020 performances would be virtual, PCC reconvened with the artists and invited them to complete their original projects virtually. The result was "A Universal History of Infamy", which included Ping Chong’s new film adaptation of Nocturne in 1200 Seconds, and original works by Irisdelia Garcia, Jaime Sunwoo and Matthew Chilton, Zakaria Khfagy, and Kenya Bullock. The new works engaged with themes like housing insecurity, police brutality, life under quarantine, and rising conspiracy theories around COVID and the 2020 election.
This project is part of an ongoing commitment to create opportunities for young early career artists of color to engage with Ping Chong’s archival body of work. Ping Chong has been a generative artist for nearly 50 years, he started PCC as an artistic home, incubated at La Mama which has been an artistic home for many theaters led by people of color. Over that span of time, a large body of work has been developed spanning many disciplines, themes, and approaches. To connect a new generation of artists to this body of work, while giving support to the creation of new work, we are exploring ways of creatively engaging, activating PCC’s archive.
The artists involved all challenged themselves to make work differently, adapting to the conditions and events of their current moment. Ping Chong, who started his artistic career studying and making film, returned to his roots in making these new short film works and revisiting this work in this new format. We aim to create a supportive environment in which artists can continue to adapt form and approaches to the changing present moment. The creation of these works, especially during the time of COVID shutdowns, deepens our commitment to working in intergenerational, transformative artistic practice.