Song Dong: Waste Not

翻譯:Trish Lyons
Written by : Lin Shangtong, Harry Liu
Translated by:Trish Lyons

Photography by:Harry Liu

Waste Not was the UK debut solo exhibition by Chinese artist, Song Dong that took place in the Curve in The Barbican Centre, London. The exhibition consisted of a single installation comprising over 10,000 commonplace, domestic items of daily life that had been used and amassed by the artist’s mother (Zhao Xiangyuan) over fifty years. The shabby and sometimes thread bare items were arranged throughout the curved space of the gallery along the lines of a Chinese traditional garden with serpentine pathways and changes in scale serving to draw in the viewer, whilst re-casting the collective memory of an entire generation under Mao Tse-tung’s reign.

Song Dong (b. 1966) started exhibiting in China, in the 1990s. His broad practice includes installation, performance, and new media with themes revolving around simple daily life. Song believes that art should not be treated as a commodity, but as an experience that integrates life and consciousness. Song‘s artworks revolve around different themes, but for the most part his work relates to his personal life experiences and emotions. One such noted work is ‘Writing Diary with Water’ (1995 – ongoing) where Song uses a calligraphy brush to write diary entries in water on a particular block of stone, when the water vaporizes, his diary disappears with it. The block of stone has become a part of Song’s life, “although this block of stone does not weight much, to me, it is heavy.” For the artist, art is neither mystical knowledge nor a virtuous career, but life itself.

At the entrance of Waste Not, an old calendar falls on the date 18th October 2002. This is the day that Song Dong’s father died of a heart attack. Since then, the calendar from the family home has remained on this page. No one has torn off this page to reveal the next day. From this point on, Mrs Zhao Xiangyuan’s behaviour suddenly and dramatically changed as she became locked in a self-enclosed world.

It was generally understood that Zhao Xiangyuan’s sudden mental collapse was a response to her husband’s sudden death. However, it transpires that the seeds were sown during her traumatic childhood. The grief for her husband simply triggered her symptoms.

Zhao Xiangyuan was born into a wealthy family in 1938. Her father was a Kuomintang officer who was awarded an honour in the War of Resistance for saving an underground member of the Communist Party in Chongqing. However, in 1953, Zhao’s father was betrayed by a Kuomintang secret agent and the underground member he had saved refused to testify in court. Her father was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and after his release he worked in a button factory in Beijing until retirement. Tragically, shortly after his release from prison, in 1961, Zhao’s mother died from cancer, which came as a tremendous blow to Zhao. This was followed by the Three Years of Great Chinese Famine in which the entire family became poor. This succession of sad events left an indelible shadow on Zhao’s young mind. It was at this time, that Song Dong’s father appeared, providing great comfort to his mother.

Thrift is a common virtue of Chinese people and became a means of survival and a way of life for most Chinese families of that era. For many years, Zhao Xiangyuan stored a large number of daily necessities. The installation Waste Not is not only a physical document of Zhao’s life but also the portrait of a generation. During Song Dong’s childhood, Zhao always bought bits of cloth so that she could make clothes. Purchasing bits of fabric cost less then clothing coupons that were rationed by the government and the panic of material scarcity led her to save lots of material. As long as the object could still be used, it was not to be thrown away. This mindset and humble lifestyle has had a psychological impact on future generations. The contrast between Zhao’s generation and that of Song’s could not be more severe. The survival instincts of a generation that had learned to save and not waste have been lost to the present generation where opulence and obsolescence thrives. China’s economic rise in the global world and its shift in policy has unwittingly drawn a deep divide between two generations and the relationship between Song Dong and his parents was no exception to this.

From the time of the death of her husband, Zhao Xiangyuan began to keep obsolete objects and items. This grew to become a hoarding obsession. Inside the house, there was no space, and throwaway items were not discarded. Song Dong and his sister tried to organise all the items and even discarded some, which displeased their mother. With her husband gone, the empty room was unbearable. The items and detritus she collected formed new memories for her, filling the space around her as she hid in this cocooned private world, seeking an illusory safety and warmth.

In traditional Chinese culture, to respect one’s parents’ lifestyle is filial piety. Song Dong thought that as long as his mother was happy, she could do whatever she liked. Therefore, he adapted his own life and work, by sharing her life, her material items and adopting her philosophy on life. He also started to make work with the ‘no waste’ principle. Art as he had understood it up to this point, was no longer important, what mattered was drawing his mother out of her grief.

In 2005, Waste Not was exhibited at Beijing Tokyo Art projects, 798 Factory, Beijing. The work was divided into four major categories: something to wear, something to eat, somewhere to live and something to use. The installation allowed for a conversation around objects, memories and family ethics against the background of contemporary China.

The exhibition provided Zhao Xiangyuan a place to organize and recall her history and also became a reflection of today’s consumerist society. Zhao was pushed into becoming an artist and Song Dong played a role as her son and assistant to help her organize and decorate her house. The mother and son started a new life together through the intercession of art.

Through the continuous process of packing and unpacking, arranging and displaying, organizing and reviewing each and every item and scrap that had been saved and hoarded the bond between mother and son grew stronger. The cracked values between generations had healed and Zhao Xiangyuan found a second life. Sadly, during the installation of Waste Not in MoMA, New York, Zhao died from a fall whilst trying to save a wounded bird. Thus her children, Song Dong and Song Hui became the custodians of the items, which have come to be a continuation of their mother’s life and a tribute to her.

For those who had experienced the great change of China’s reform and opening period, Song Dong’s Waste Not elicited much sympathy. In the era of material scarcity, the Chinese planned economy was distributed equally in every Chinese family with each family owning the same items. The objects in the installation were familiar to everyone’s childhood. Not only was the piece about the love between a mother and son, it referred to something greater that was deeply rooted in the collective memory of China.





與以往不同,由於巴比肯曲型空間展廳的特殊空間結構,使得宋冬打破了以往平鋪直敘使作品的陳列方式,為了使觀眾能在展覽中更充分的體驗藝術家設置的線索和體驗,宋冬採用了中國傳統園林的佈局方式,使觀者遊走於作品之中同時能近距離的與作品產生共鳴,做到錯落有致,一步一景。正如策展人凱特布希所說:“ 物盡其用所展出的是中國大變革時期的肖像照,是一部中國巨大變革之中的活生生的歷史記憶。”


宋冬是中國90年代以來重要的觀念藝術家,他的作品形式非常多樣,包括裝置,行為,新媒體等眾多媒介,但其作品的主要觀念都是圍繞着關於生活和生命這樣既簡單又宏大的命題,對於宋冬來說,真正的藝術不應該是放在畫廊裡被出售的,而應該是融入到生命和意識當中的一種體驗和生活狀態,在他看來“生活就是藝術,藝術就是生活”。 宋冬的藝術作品形式各異,但很多重要作品都與其生活經歷和情感息息相關,而這些藝術創作也使得他不斷地對生活和藝術產生新的認識,從而這些藝術創作慢慢融入了他的生活成為他生活和藝術的組成部分,比如宋冬從上世紀90年代開始的《水寫日記》,他每日把日記用毛筆和清水寫在一塊石頭上面,然後水慢慢蒸發散去,所寫所記便慢慢逝去,周而複始,每日如斯。宋冬最初以為這只是一個藝術作品,表達了他對於日常生活“不做白不做,作了也白做,白做也得做”一種態度,但隨着作品的延續,那塊天天承載他隱形日記的石頭卻成為了他生活和生命的一個部分,他說:“也許這塊石重量不大,但對我來說,它卻很沉很沉。”由於宋冬對於當下社會的和生活的關注,使得他的作品當中充滿了平淡和樸實的智慧,在他作品當中沒有什麼高科技,他總是從一個平凡的人的角度出來用他的智慧發聲,對他來說,藝術並不是什麼高深莫測的學問,或者是驚天動地的偉業,只不過是生活。


我 一直在背後看著他:就像無色無味無形的水一樣,流動在空間中,隱現在人群裡。許多人都知道,宋冬常年以水在石上寫日記,水痕干時,文字消失。而在我眼裡, 那天,巴比肯就是一塊巨大的石頭,宋冬本人是水,“物盡其用”則是他的筆,三者不分彼此,共同寫下一段歷史。完成了一個新的循環。這樣的循環,過去曾有, 未來還會有。

《物盡其用》之前的展出,都是在開闊性空間中,一萬多件“破爛兒”依次鋪排,一覽無遺。這回巴比肯的曲形空間,延展前進,人站在任何一個點上,都只能看 到整個空間的一小部分。這給了宋冬一個挑戰。他最後借用了中國古典園林“一步一景”的理念,將展品分類,依次擺放。踏進巴比肯曲形空間展廳的入口,映入眼 簾的是化石般的洗衣皂、中西藥盒、舊桌椅等;然後是堆積如山的瓶瓶罐罐鍋碗瓢盆乃至塑料快餐盒;再往前走,是高高疊起來的包裝紙箱,宋冬將展品從中取出後,將空盒子就地堆砌得高矮參差,權作假山,起到視覺隔斷的作用;“假山”後,是多年前孩子們丟棄的玩具;曲形空間的中段,矗立着一座約五六米高的建築構架,是用北京胡同裡宋冬老房子拆下的木頭和玻璃搭成的,其下的地上,鋪排着各種型號和品牌的礦泉水瓶子、空油瓶;而展覽的最後一景,則是由鞋子、布料、被裡、棉絮等組成的。





趙 湘源精神上的崩潰,就像她丈夫的身體崩潰一樣,看似突然。事實上,那根崩潰的尖刺,早在經年前就種下了,在我們的內部,以物理或者精神的方式,不動聲色、 不可迴轉地生長着。直到某一個時刻,這哀傷和絶望的尖刺,終於頂破了血肉肌膚,刺穿了我們看似完好的表皮,赤裸裸地曝露在空氣裡……
節儉是中國人的美德,更是那個時代絶大多數中國家庭的生存之道,不然如何活下去?多 年來趙湘源存儲了大量的生活用品。“物盡其用”是她的生活準則,也是中國一代人的寫照。宋冬小的時候,趙湘源總是買布頭拼湊起來做衣服,因為布頭可以不用 政府配給的有限的布票。由於對物質匱乏的恐慌,導致她攢了很多布頭,導致了這樣一種生活方式,只要是可以存得住的東西都不許扔,物盡其用的思維和生活方式 成了慣性,但當物質豐富時這種慣性又成了生活的累贅。生活的巨變似乎是在瞬間完成的,空間被這些等待“物盡其用”的物質所佔據。物質匱乏的恐慌,對於下一 代來說,成了無用物質堆積的焦慮。這種生活觀念導致了像宋冬這樣的下一代與父母之間的深深鴻溝。
這 些可能這輩子都用不上的物,終於都用上了。她很高興,對兒子說:留着有用吧。展示只是看得見的一部分,重要的是在展覽為趙湘源提供了一個場所,一個整理和 回憶她的歷史的場所,也是對今天以物質為基礎的社會的反思。趙湘源在這裡被推到一個藝術家的位置,而宋冬以她的兒子和助手的雙重身份,幫她整理,幫她裝修 她的房子,使她生活得快樂。母子倆共同以藝術為媒介,共同開始新的生活。
意料之外的事情發生了: 這堆中國老百姓的“破爛兒”一發而不可收拾,變成了一次巡迴世界的盛大展覽。







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