(Courtesy of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco)
|Born||1966 (age 50–51)
|Notable work||Waste Not, Breathing, Touching My Father|
|Awards||Grand Award, Gwanju Biennale 2006|
Song Dong (Chinese: 宋冬, born 1966) is a Chinese contemporary artist, active in sculpture, installations, performance, photography and video. He has been involved in many solo and group exhibitions around the world, covering a range of themes and topics including his relationship with his family and their experience of living in modern China (the topic of his widely exhibited installation Waste Not), the transformation of China's urban environment and the impermanence of change.
Early life and career
Song Dong was born in Beijing in 1966 to a family that was once prosperous but was reduced to poverty by China's repeated upheavals. His father Song Shiping was caught up in the Cultural Revolution and was one of the millions of Chinese people sent to a re-education camp for supposedly being a "counter-revolutionary". The younger Song was raised by his mother, Zhao Xiangyuan.
Song was an enthusiastic artist from an early age and began painting with the encouragement of his mother – though his father was not so supportive – and first trained in oil painting. He graduated in 1989 from the Fine Arts Department of Capital Normal University in Beijing, and abruptly ceased his painting after the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. In 1992 he married a fellow artist, Yin Xiuzhen. The two turned their back on their academic training and turned to avant garde and experimental art forms including performance and video.
Several of Song Dong's works have conveyed a theme of the impermanence of change, highlighting the way that although a single person could effect a minor change it could only have a fleeting impact. In 1995 he began writing a daily diary on a flat piece of stone using clear water rather than ink, so that the letters would disappear as he wrote them. He subsequently visited Tibet, where he photographed himself striking the Lhasa River with an old-style Chinese seal. The following year, he visited Tiananmen Square in Beijing on a freezing New Year's Eve to create the piece Breathing, showing himself lying face-down on the ground for 40 minutes until his breath had created a temporary sheet of ice on the pavement. He repeated the same thing on a frozen lake in a Beijing park that made no impression on the existing sheet of ice.
Both Song and Yin have made Beijing itself a major subject of their work. As the historic city has been progressively demolished to make way for modern buildings, the pair have retrieved fragments of the razed buildings to make artistic installations from them. Song highlighted China's dramatic transformation through a series of edible installations called Eating the City that were staged between 2003–06 in Barcelona, Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Oxford and Shanghai. As he puts it,
the purpose ... is for the city I build to be destroyed ... As cities in Asia grow, old buildings are knocked down and new ones built, almost every day ... My city [is] tempting and delicious. When we are eating the city we are using our desire to taste it, but at the same time we are demolishing the city and turning it into a ruin.
Song's relationships with his parents have also been a recurring theme of his work. Touching My Father, created in 1997, tackled his distant relationship with his father (who died in 2002). It consists of a video in which Song's own hand, superimposed over a film of his father, appears to stroke him. More recently, he created the installation Waste Not displaying over 10,000 household items from the home of his late mother, whose extreme thriftiness led her to obsessively hoard anything that could possibly be re-used. As of 2012, it has so far been displayed in eight cities around the world.
Song was awarded a UNESCO/ASCHBERG Bursary Laureate in 2000 and won the Grand Award at the Gwanju Biennale in South Korea in 2006. He has put on many solo shows around the world, including Projects 90, at the Museum of Modern Art in 2009 and A Blot in the Landscape at Pace Beijing in 2010. His first major retrospective in Europe was presented in 2015 at Groninger Museum and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. His group exhibitions include China Now, Alors Le Chine: Chinese Contemporary Art at the Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2003; Re-Imagining Asia HKW, at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin in 2008, and at The New Art Gallery Walsall in 2009; and The 10th Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool in 2010. In 2012, Song contributed to the dOCUMENTA (13) exhibition at Kassel, Germany with his Do nothing garden.
- "Song Dong: Waste Not". London: Barbican Centre. 20 December 2011.
- "Song Dong: Dad and Mom, Don't Worry About Us, We Are All Well". Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- Cotter, Holland (14 July 2009). "The Collected Ingredients of a Beijing Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- Gribben, Alice (27 February 2012). "The NS Interview: Song Dong, artist". New Statesman. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- "The Way of Chopsticks: Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen". Chambers Fine Art. c. 2006. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- "Song Dong: Waste Not Gallery Guide", Barbican Centre. February 2012
- "dOCUMENTA (13) – Song Dong". documenta und Museum Fridericianum Veranstaltungs-GmbH. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
- List of Song Dong's exhibitions, Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art 2002