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SUAF: Culture jamming with Kristina Wong
Headliner mixes comedy with performance art

Kristina Wong is the artist–in–residence for the 2012 Savannah Urban Arts Festival. That means she’ll spend four days with the effusively creative kids from AWOL, and at the end of the week (on Friday, April 20), they’ll put it all out there on the Muse Arts Warehouse stage, followed by a Wong solo performance.

Admission is free.

What Kristina Wong does is an amalgam of comedy, theater, performance art ... and civics. Not only is she a hilariously funny (and fearless) writer and performer, she creates one–woman comedic shows that challenge societal quirks and hold them uncomfortably against the light.

The most famous of these, Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “explored the remarkably high incidence of depression and suicide among Asian American women in a world more nuts than we are” (her words, not mine).

A San Francisco–born, third–generation Chinese–American, Wong lives in Los Angeles, where she is a semi–legendary, over–the–underground  writer, performer, blogger, filmmaker and “culture jammer.”

This is her first time in Savannah.

OK, I’ll admit I don’t really know what a “culture jammer” is.

Kristina Wong: Maybe you ride the bus every day. You get on the bus and you sit down, and the bus is riding along, and that’s it. Someone who jams up culture takes these patterns in life and intercepts them with things ... for example, one day someone gets on the bus and starts playing the trombone. And at 11:15 a.m., all the other people on the bus, who are also culture jammers, take their pants down. The other people become to the audience to that, and they’re like “What?”  It’s performance art situated in public places. My fake mail–order bride website was a form of culture–jamming — you’re looking for pornography and oops, you find my website. I also use to crash the Miss Chinatown Beauty Pageant.

What you do isn’t standup comedy, it’s not theater, and you’re not exactly a monologist. Do you call it performance art?

Kristina Wong: Saying “Standup,” I guess, has a certain set–up punch to it. I feel like I’m definitely a comedian, but not in that stand–at–the–mic, “Let me tell you about my husband ...” way. And I tend to not do very well just by myself — I always have to have some kind of gimmick or thing, whether it’s a slideshow that’s happening ... I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing to do in Savannah. I have so many to pick from. I’ve never been to a community like Savannah before. And I’ve not been presented at anything like this Urban Arts Festival.

The show I’m touring now is called Going Green. I’m leaning to that. It’s a show about the triumphs and tribulations of sustainable living.

What’s that all about?

Kristina Wong: Well, I’m not standing there going “Everyone needs to recycle at the end of this, and sign this petition!” I think it’s very easy to say “Do it, go green,” but my whole life I’ve gone to the extreme in terms of going green.

And I gave up meat at 13. I didn’t even want to, but I come from a Chinese family and they were not thrilled about it, because everything we ate had meat. So, how to participate in family functions?

What in the world made you do that, at the age of 13?

Kristina Wong: Well, I can psycho–analyze myself to death, but I really felt “Oh, my God — the planet is dying! What am I gonna do? Arghhhhh! I’m gonna save everyone!” But I didn’t have bigger conceptions of mass organizing or whatever, I only understood how to activate my own life. Which is, I guess, all you can do at 13.

My tactic was to pull cans out of trash cans in the schoolyard. It was me and the kind of weirdo girl, named Anne. We’d spend our recess picking up cans. It’s like, there were probably more organized ways around this, but that’s what I knew.

And I always kind of gravitated to the lowest–hanging fruit.

You’re artist–in–residence here all week. What will you be doing with the kids?

Kristina Wong: I’ll be doing the exercises I teach people to help them create performances about their lives. I do this show where I auction things off from my history that have baggage. I also auction off gentrified neighborhoods. I love stuff like Antiques Roadshow, where something looks like a piece of junk and it has this rich history. And suddenly it’s worth a million bucks.

So I’m gonna have them look at items in their history, items that have cultural baggage – like a neighborhood that’s changed over time, or the memory of a father that’s no longer there — that they’ll make descriptions of, and auction off to the audience for monetary or symbolic amounts. The audience can shout out “One dollar!” and nothing will ever get exchanged, but it is kind of a way to do storytelling. It’s very fun.

Savannah Urban Arts Festival

Kristina Wong

Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road

When: At 8 p.m. Friday, April 20

Admission: Free