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Workshop: Speculative Authorship and the City of Fakes // Winnie Wong

  • Wilder House 5811 S Kenwood Ave Chicago, IL, 60637 United States (map)


In this paper Professor Wong investigates how a non-profit, non-governmental, scientific research organization in the city of Shenzhen, China had become, by 2008, the world's largest genomic sequencing firm. Examining its "fee-for-service" mode of research collaboration, which offers reduced-price work in exchange for co-authorship on scientific papers—a practice that was initially met with skepticism from the American scientific community, she describes a moment when the "credit economy" of scientific authorship largely centered in American and Western European academic and research institutions was challenged by Chinese biopolitics of scientific research and intellectual labor. Professor Wong discusses how this was a moment of "speculative authorship," and argues that this brief accumulation of the (declining) value of scientific authorship propelled a self-reinvention of the firm into the "production-study-research innovation base" it presently calls itself. Ever becoming something unprecedented and openly challenging the boundaries of legitimacy, this speculative condition of becoming is also symptomatic of the city this firm calls home: Shenzhen, China's ever-changing "model" of its immediate future.


Professor Wong's research is concerned with the history and present of artistic authorship, with a focus on interactions between China and the West. Her theoretical interests revolve around the critical distinctions of high and low, true and fake, art and commodity, originality and imitation, and, conceptual and manual labor, and thus my work focuses on objects and practices at the boundary of these categories. Professor Wong has written on product placement in the Hollywood film industry, popular culture and public space in postcolonial Hong Kong, performance art and consumer rights activism in 1990s Beijing, and American trademark law and experience design. More recently, her work has focused on image-making practices at the heart of modern and contemporary encounters between China and the West.

Professor Wong's first book, Van Gogh On Demand: China and the Readymade (UChicago Press 2014), is a study of Dafen village, China, the world's largest production center for oil-on-canvas painting. The book examines conceptual art, propaganda, skill, craft and performance in Dafen, and evaluates the postmodern valorization of creativity and appropriation in globalist artistic discourses. She is currently completing a second book manuscript, on export painting in the period of world maritime trade centered in Guangzhou (Canton) from 1700 to 1842. This manuscript situates the work of anonymous Canton painters within the larger Qing dynasty engagement with European painting. Professor Wong is also coediting a forthcoming special issue of positions on visual culture and digital dissent, and another contributed volume on the urban history and anthropology of Shenzhen.