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Next Level Nostalgia

Next Level Nostalgia

Tesh Ekman

Nostalgia is a feeling that’s hard to describe because it can take so many forms. It can strike from an old photo, a familiar sound or voice, or a recognizable scent that takes us back in time. Sometimes it’s as simple as the taste of something delicious from childhood or a happy moment. How many newlyweds save the top tier of their cake for their first anniversary to recreate the joy of their special day? 

Nostalgia reminds us of who we used to be and can make us feel whole again, even if just for a brief moment. For designer, illustrator, and artist Jordan Wong, that special, tingly feeling came in floods when he gazed upon the old cardboard toy boxes that his mother had saved from when he was a boy. 

“When I was a kid, my father would go take these business trips to Japan and every time he would come back he would bring back these Japanese toy robot model kits, specifically Gundams,” Wong fondly recalls. “The box art really inspired me because they were full of incredible illustrations and colors and all of those visual elements and that language.”

These eye-candy cartons not only influenced Wong’s artistic journey, but also led to a simple, yet beautiful idea for a gallery exhibition piece. 

Photos Spaces Gallery / Rustin McCann

Wong was one of five commissioned artists asked to create and share “their conceptions of public trust and methods for building trust” for an exhibition named A Public Trust. The show was curated by Spaces Deputy Director Megan Young and ran from Aug. 21 to Oct. 9 of this year at its location on Detroit Road. 

At first, Wong was curious as to why he was approached to be part of the collection. The show’s theme skewed more towards social justice, political ideas and concepts, which isn’t something he usually delves into with his art. However, Young had a different take as to why Wong should be involved. 

“Megan kind of opened my eyes to why she wanted to include me in this exhibition mainly because of all the public artwork I’ve been doing,” Wong explains. “So now it’s examining the idea of essentially the trust between a community and an artist in creating public art.”

Wong’s contribution, titled SUPER MEGA WONDER 1999, is directly influenced by those vividly illustrated, beautiful toy boxes he received as presents from his father. Once fully constructed from the scaled mock up Wong produced for the exhibit, the much larger, real-life version, will also contain treasures and wonderment inside. The box will stand at 7 feet tall, 5 feet wide, and 2.5 feet deep as a public art installation which also doubles as a local library. 

This behemoth version of the box is designed to include a cabinet door that opens to reveal an interior which houses “graphic novels, comic books, children’s books, illustrated zines, any kind of visual story-telling medium,” per Wong. The library will serve as a colorful beacon for local kids and residents to find, explore, and find happiness within.

Wong has always been one to dream big. When his mural wall piece went up in Public Square last year, he was already looking to produce something bigger on a scale of the LeBron James banner that was an iconic part of the downtown Cleveland landscape for many years. This project is no different. Wong’s hope is to have these libraries installed in Asian American communities around the country.

Going back to his roots Chinese-American roots is something Wong enjoys. “It’s great to feel connected to the Asian American community here in Cleveland especially through my work. There’s not a better way,” he passionately states. 

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At the same time, Wong also knows that it’s small, deliberate steps that add up to make a big dream come to fruition. His goal is to bring this initial library to life  in Cleveland first and then hopefully expand. Wong appreciates that as part of being a successful artist, there’s also the business of finding clients, outlets, funders, and buyers for his work. With that in mind, Wong has socialized the project with his contacts at Midtown Cleveland Inc., an economic development agency which “serves a two-square mile district between Downtown Cleveland and University Circle,” and others in the community. 

As for the physical fabrication and construction to make sure the library is both beautiful and functional, Wong has reached out to the makers at WestCamp Press to determine what it’ll take to build the eclectic library. Wong has also created a video to bring attention to the fundraising campaign he started on his website to subsidize the project along with other private donations. 

Like a video game, Wong seeks to keep leveling up by taking his nostalgia from a public art concept about trust to making it a reality in the form of an eclectic community library. A place that serves as a source of nostalgia to others so maybe they can be inspired and do the same, in their own way. While that and everything it involves in terms of design, funding, and construction might seem like a lot of work and redtape to execute for some, Wong remains undaunted and determined. 

“I’m not worried about the price honestly, I was more concerned about ‘is this even possible,’” he explains. “As long as there’s a way to do it, I’m not worried about securing the funds and whatnot. I’ll just make it happen.” 

For more information, check out this promotional video from Wong and the project web page for timeline and other details.

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