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Julie Lasky

Protect Me from What I Want



Tobias Wong, Tattoo, 2002

IN A DREAM I SAW
A WAY TO SURVIVE
AND I WAS
FULL OF JOY
Quotation on Tobias Wong’s website, from Jenny Holzer’s Survival Series (1983–1985)

In 2002, a slim Asian-Canadian New Yorker in his twenties, who often gave the impression of being the most negligible person in a room, approached the artist Jenny Holzer at a Manhattan gallery and asked her to inscribe a message on his forearm. “If I had known he was going to have it tattooed, my handwriting would have been better,” Holzer told me several years later when we were serving together on a prize jury, and I asked how it felt to have her words indelibly printed on the limb of Tobias Wong.

“PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT,” Holzer’s semi-ironic battle cry for yuppies, was the slogan Wong chose as his own personal brand. And no wonder. Wong, who took his own life on May 30th, made his reputation by critiquing the urge to consume. Long before the economic meltdown rearranged our attitudes toward extravagance, his objects represented luxury and romance, the catalytic engines of craving, as twin follies. A black rose brooch fashioned out of bulletproof Kevlar. A solitaire diamond set upside down in its engagement ring so the point could produce scratchiti or gouge someone’s eye out. A crystal chandelier dipped in rubber. Ingestible gold and silver for producing glittering feces. Too sharp and dry to be sophomoric, Wong was the martini-maker of conceptual design. He was a practitioner of one-liners strung out between design and art (a genre mastered by Constantin Boym and Tibor Kalman before him). But he also brought the necessary component of respect to his send-ups of surplus — an understanding of the floaty feeling of delight that comes from indulgence, however unhealthy or tasteless it might be.

Which is why, last November in New York’s SoHo, Wong could be found surrounded by huge, blobby swirls of colorful candy and silver Mylar helium balloons — a joint promotion for the candymaker Papabubble and furniture company Cappellini. It took a while to notice him standing quietly among the artisanal sweets and sticky children and a few seconds more to figure out why he was there. “I should have known you were behind all this,” I told him. (He had produced the event with one of his regular collaborators, Josee Lepage.)

That was the last time I saw him. In the end, not even Holzer’s talisman could protect Tobi from what he wanted.

Posted in: Ideas, Obituaries, Photography

Comment 13  |     |     |   Like 3  |   Tweet 1
Comments [13]
This is a beautiful eulogy, Julie. You manage to bring Tobias's spirit to life, as well as paint a harsh portrait of the consumer culture too many of us fall victim to - both in servitude and addiction to it. Thank you.
Mitch Anthony
06.09.10
04:37

Thank you for your lovely words. Little helps ease the pain, but the magical elements that made Tobi such a special gem, in spite of how crushed I feel, force me to smile.
Stanhope Charming
06.09.10
09:04

Beautiful post about beautiful minds...
gbourgeaiseau
06.10.10
01:05

Thank you, Julie, for your words. I hope Tobi's memory will live longer then two days of twitter frenzy, and he will continue to inspire young people through his remaining work, and through writings like yours. For my own memory of Tobi, see our blog http://boympartners.blogspot.com/
Constantin Boym
06.10.10
01:22

personal favorite piece of Tobias's intellect and wit

http://www.smittenkitten.ca/deardiary/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/tobias8.jpg

RIP
Josh Nychuk
06.10.10
02:17

Here's "snarky." Who cares? Another guy kills himself that we've never heard of and people come out of the woodwork and say how much they liked him and how brilliant he WAS. <<
Yawn…
no one in particular
06.10.10
08:53

@no one in particular: What I don't understand is why haters like you come out of the woodwork and post disgusting comments after someone dies. So you weren't up on contemporary artwork enough to know who Tobias Wong was. I and many others have admired his work for years.

Go ahead and yawn at your own reflection, anonymously posting snarky comments on the internet about dead people is about as pathetic and boring as it gets.

RIP Tobias Wong.
Dwayne
06.10.10
10:33

Thank you Julie for this moving tribute. Tobias was unique in so many ways. Knowing he's not around anymore is not an easy concept to grapple with.
Michael Thorner
06.11.10
03:41

Too bad she didn't write on his arm."Go see a doctor."
vince
06.11.10
10:53

Julie,
A very sad and lovely piece.
Tobias Wong was a bright and shining light in a sea of mediocracy. His work was insightful, cutting and important.
It is a pity there aren't a 1000 more like him AND a 1000 less of YAWN.
Eric Baker
06.13.10
07:56

his messages are remembered and positive +
you cannot control brilliant people
they shine and become brighter even after this so called death.
some person
06.14.10
12:49

I am really sad to hear about Wong's passing. He is a huge inspiration for me and will continue to be even after the fact. It funny to think how someone I never met could have such an effect on me.
Gershon
06.14.10
04:08

Beautiful, poetic and sad. Another sad loss in the design community.

Be at peace Tobias.
Paul Schifino
06.14.10
07:53



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