Song Dong is one of China’s most important contemporary conceptual artists. He works in a variety of mediums, including installation, video, performance, and photography.
An installation (just taken down in Sept. from the MoMA) that is “at once a record of a life, a history of a half-century of Chinese vernacular culture and a symbolic archive of impermanence” (v). It contains every item that the artist’s mother collected in her house over a period of 60 years.
“Writing diary with water 1995–present comprises four photographs that document an ongoing performance project. Since 1995, Song Dong has used a calligraphy brush to write daily diary entries in water on a particular block of stone. When Song Dong was a child, his father encouraged him to practise his calligraphy in water on stone because they could not afford ink and paper. As an adult, he returned to this practice when he realised that conventional diary writing posed a risk of disclosure” (Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art 2002 site).
…his work also includes Public installations of fragments from destroyed neighborhoods
The Artist’s Cultural Context
~ virtue/spirituality, politics, economics, family, and a rapidly changing society ~
Taoism – Nature – Transience
“In nature, that great source of Taoist art, no change could be made because none was necessary: everything, positive and negative, was absorbed into it” (NY Times 15 july 2009).
The Cultural Revolution
Song Dong was “born in Beijing in 1966, on the very eve of the Cultural Revolution, a period of ideological danger and economic want. His mother came from a wealthy family that lost everything after one of its members was jailed as an anti-Communist spy. His father, trained as an engineer, spent seven years in forced labor after being accused of counterrevolutionary activity. Purely to survive, his parents adhered to the Cultural Revolutionary dictum of frugality in daily life, with his mother carrying conservation to extravagant lengths” (NY Times 15 july 2009).
“When Mr. Song’s father died, in 2002, his mother was inconsolable. She continued to live in the jammed Beijing house, throwing nothing away and obsessively bringing more stuff into it, as if continuing to feather a nest for a now-absent family”…”Finally, in 2005, Mr. Song proposed that they turn the accumulated junk into an art project” (NY Times 15 july 2009).
- Videos on MoMA’s website:
(1) Curator Barbara London interviews Song Dong
(2) Installation of “Waste Not”
- NY Times 15 july 2009: “The Collected Ingredients of a Beijing Life” & slideshow
- Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art 2002 site
- MoMA “Waste Not” Exhibition Catalog, artist book, & interviews/videos
- Walker Art Center site: “How Latitudes Become Forms”
- Culture Base: The International Artist Database
Starting Points for Lesson Plans
- Making the everyday, the mundane, & family relations visible through collection & installation (“Waste Not”)
- Art as a collaboration & therapeutic process (“Waste Not” & “Writing Diaries in Water”)
- Creating transient art/art that disappears (“Writing Diaries in Water,” “Writing Time in Water”)…non-western artist Song Dong could be paired with western eco-artist Andy Goldsworthy
- Creating metaphors with materials, i.e. tying economic consumption to eating (“Eating the City”)