Song Dong—Waste Not
Vancouver Art Gallery
Song Dong has been a significant figure in the development of Chinese conceptual art since the early 1990s. Through his distinguished works in performance, video and installation art, he has become an internationally acclaimed artist emerging from Beijing’s avant-garde art community. His multi-disciplinary practice explores notions of perception, transience and the ephemeral nature of existence.
Song Dong’s monumental installation, titled Waste Not, evolved as a collaboration between the artist and his mother—Zhao Xiangyuan, who passed away after this project’s third iteration (while trying to rescue a stranded bird)—and now involves other family members in its re-making. The art work is informed by family relationships that the artist activates, standing as a tribute to Song Dong’s father’s death and a record of his mother’s life.
The installation incorporates the wooden frame of his mother’s house along with all of the objects she meticulously collected over the course of 50 years—a collection of over 10,000 worn, broken or unused items, each one of seemingly little value. The assembled materials—furniture, clothes, books, kitchen utensils, toiletries, scraps of wood, toys—were used, recycled or saved for the future. As objects of everyday use, they are both specific and generic, imbedded with personal histories yet open to variable opinions as to their value. Meticulously arranged in careful groupings throughout the exhibition space, the objects form a type of archive that viewers can navigate through, gaining insights into family stories as well as larger political and social narratives.
While referencing the artist’s use of everyday materials for the purposes of art, the term ‘waste not’—or wu jin qi yong in Chinese—also describes a philosophy of life for a generation of ordinary Chinese citizens who grew up during the Cultural Revolution, including Song Dong’s mother. They experienced displacement, poverty and a constant shortage of goods, making a virtue of frugality—a quality that subsequent generations no longer consider an asset.
NEXT: Song Dong—Waste Not is organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and curated by Daina Augaitis, Chief Curator / Associate Director. This is the eleventh installment of NEXT: A Series of Artist Projects from the Pacific Rim, presented by TD Bank Financial Group.
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery