Artist Sin Wai Kin’s practice as a storyteller draws attention to the gaps between the stories we are told and the lives we live, asking who is given the power to tell us these stories and what these stories enforce. The London-based artist’s latest film, Dreaming the End, compounds this thinking. As so often is the case within Wai Kin’s practice, this work looks at our relationships to our bodies, our bodies’ relationship to the world, and how, in the space between these two, our sense of identity manifests.
Commissioned by the Fondazione Memmo in Rome and made on location around the city over the course of a year, the film features characters which regularly populate Wai Kin’s work, The Storyteller and Change, who move through a looping narrative rich with references, cycles, transitions, and the binding of language, taking tropes from various cinematic genres like thriller, noir, and fantasy to bring this to bear.
As we sat in the Fondazione’s courtyard earlier this year, Wai Kin spoke of their connection to the city. “Rome is a city of narrative and of history so that had to be something that was deeply entrenched in the work,” they said. “My practice is so much about storytelling, and what better place to think about the history of storytelling than Rome, where everywhere you turn there is architecture or a monument that is solidifying history—there is an inevitability of this history and truth and power.”
The film is rich with layers and sited in the city’s infamous architecture: the gardens of Villa Medici, the interior of Palazzo Ruspoli, and the spaces of Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana (now owned by Fendi). This anchor to the real is what gives the work its potential, makes the abstract tangible. Dreaming the End follows the characters as they move through the winding narrative of talking statues, triangular apples, and endless staircases. There is a surreal edge within the work that is amplified by speculative fictions that course through much of Wai Kin’s oeuvre.
“I was trying to think about all these narratives in this work and create a fantasy that speaks to reality more accurately than most nonfiction,” Wai Kin said.
Language also becomes a character in the work, exposing its failings and how language can become constrictive when talking about representation, particularly about transness. Taking cues from science fiction writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and Samuel R. Delany, the script folds in on itself, forcing its text into a space of otherness: despite societal resistance, the potential for new ways for language to truly be representative outside the gender binary are imaginable.
The characters’ costumes are inspired by Italian designer Cinzia Ruggeri, famed for making garments that abstracted the body to the point of the surreal, and London-based, Hong Kong–born designer Robert Wun, whose garments embrace escapism and futurism. In one scene, the Storyteller wears a tie formed into a stepped arrow, and in another, Change wears a pleated suit with the creases coming at incredibly sharp angles. Taken together, these costumes help visualize Wai Kin’s metaphor of the collapsing of time.
For Wai Kin, they also reference the ancient monuments that dot the city where Dreaming the End was filmed. “Rome is a city where everything is monumentalized. It is a city that is so heavy with history,” they said. “That’s what monuments are: there are people in power that solidify an idea of what beauty is, what history is, and what truth is. It is a very literal representation of how stories are told and how we exist in them. It’s not even a representation. It is that. So, to bring that into the fashion, into things that are more ephemeral, into the embodiment was really important.”
None of these are new topics for Wai Kin, who often makes videos, performances, and installations using pop culture to unpack personal narratives, make space for expansive definitions of gender, and question governmental regulations of trans bodies. Previous works have incorporated drag, like It’s Always You (2021), which garnered the artist a Turner Prize nomination that year. In the film, they played every member of a boyband—open jackets, flat personalities, synchronized dance moves, and all. The Storyteller character also appears as one of the boyband members: the broody, enigmatic one. With the same cosmic face paint as in Dreaming the End, the Storyteller reaches out the frame toward the work’s end, drawing us into this exaggerated world of pop culture, smoldering with cryptic, toxic even, masculinity.
On view until October 29, the exhibition, curated by Alessio Antoniolli, also features a series of busts which wear the characters’ neon wigs from the film, while the walls showcase face wipes that hold the imprint of the characters’ makeup. These additions in a way break down the fourth wall, showing how Wai Kim moves from one self to another. Antoniolli and Wai Kin’s decade-long friendship also bears out in the film and accompanying exhibition, making for something deeply personal on all fronts.
“Like identities we are a history of layers,” Antoniolli said. “We grow up. We get to know ourselves. We need to find spaces in our own narratives, our own heads, our own contexts to continually redefine ourselves in order to grow and to evolve, in order to become truer to ourselves.”