Categories: People

Song Dong

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

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

“Waste Not” ” 2014 Today Art Museum

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The Waste Not is a large installation made together by the artist and his mother ZHAO Xiangyuan in 2013. The original motivation is that the artist invited his mother to help him make an exhibition to distract his mother from sorrows, and to relieve her depression.

The explanation for the phrase “waste not” in the dictionary states: everything has their usable quality, and should be used fully without wasting anything. Rather than a traditional virtue of Chinese, frugality is more of the only survival method for a poor family during harsh time. The objects shown in these photos all belong to one person, Zhao Xiangyuan, the artist’s mother, who has hoarded everything through years. These include small items such as bottle caps, worn shoes of her children, used closes, cloths, tools, lunch boxes, nails, plant pots, toothpaste peels, and large objects including the roof beams. These objects are literally a person’s life epic, are material manifestations of her life history and feelings. As she describes, “these objects are not samples, but are traces of my life, leftover of the time. Time has also taken away so many things from me, for which I have tried to preserve everything and to extend their lives.”

This is a sentimental work, as it explores the relationship between human and objects, and transformations of locales and time. These objects, useless or useful, displayed in life or exhibition, are all intertwined by chains of feelings, and will be passed down to the next generation.


2007 Song Dong in Beijing commune (Beijing commune, Beijing)
Song Dong
2006 Eating the City (Selfrigdes Department Store, London)
2005 59 minutes (Times Square, New York)
2004 Song Dong Solo Exhibition: Water (Manchester China Art Center, Manchester, UK)
2003 SARS era: Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen (New York ISE Foundation)
2002 Chopsticks: Song Donghe Yin Xiuzhen (New York Qianbo Gallery)
2000 Bonsai (Gasworks International Artist Studio, London)
1997 Song Dong Video Installation Art Exhibition – “beat” (Berlin Art Ruins)
1996 implementation of the works of “Kazakhstan gas” (Beijing Tiananmen Square, after the sea)

2006 only one wall (art space, Sydney)
2006 Gwangju Biennale (Gwangju, Korea)
2005 above the water (St. Lucas Church, Munich)
2004 Asian Traffic (Sydney 4A Art Museum, Australia)
26th Sao Paulo International Contemporary Art Biennale (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
The faces of the crowd: from Manet to the art of today (Whitechapel Art Gallery, London)
2003 second-hand reality (today art museum)
Left hand and right hand (art space, Beijing)
2002 Long March: A Walking Visual Show (Long March, China)
2002 Fourth Asia Pacific Triennial (Queensland Art Museum, Australia)
The First Guangzhou Triennial (Guangdong Art Museum)
Taipei Taipei Biennale (Taipei City Art Museum)
2001 Virtual Future (Guangdong Art Museum)
Living at this time: Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition (Berlin Hamburg Railway Station Contemporary Art Museum)
2000 World Exposition (Hannover)
1999 Moment: Chinese Art at the End of the 20th Century (Chicago Smart Art Museum)
1998 Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition (P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York)
1995’95 Gwangju Biennale (Korea)
1992 First Guangzhou Art Biennale (Guangzhou)

2008 in Valencia 55 days – Chinese Contemporary Art Exhibition, Valencia Museum of Modern Art, Valencia, Spain
2001 Knowledge is Power: Contemporary Art Exhibition, Beijing
2001 Virtual Future – China Contemporary Art Exhibition, Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangdong