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Junk genre: Drawing inspiration from the useless

Lin Qi
Updated: Jan 26,2016 10:51 AM     China Daily

Part of Surplus Value, the everyday items that have been transformed into art installations by Song Dong.[Photo provided to China Daily]

He is recognized as one of China’s foremost conceptual artists.

Song Dong, 50, has been using objects of daily use in experimental art projects since 2002, discovering aesthetics in discarded things.

The items that he uses range from shoes and window frames to empty bottles and ceramic tiles, and they all come from stuff accumulated by his family over the past decades.

He has transformed these everyday items into art installations and has displayed them around the world.

When recycling old things, Song is not interested in simple remakes like “turning a tin can into a vase”, he says.

He attempts to bring out their aesthetic value.

Song Dong displays at his solo show, Surplus Value, the everyday items that have been transformed into art installations.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Song’s creations are filled with both personal and collective emotions of gratitude and love. Through this, he tries to teach viewers about refinement and life.

Song’s current solo exhibition, Surplus Value, at Pace Beijing continues his study of the relationship between people and waste.

“Song Dong has created an art vocabulary based on his personal experiences of growing up (in a Beijing hutong),” says Leng Lin, art critic, curator and president of Pace Beijing.

“He uses items of daily use, which are often ignored and abandoned, to create his works,” he says.

At the entrance of the exhibition, Song has placed piles of window frames from his late mother’s house, similar to the ones he has used in his displayed works.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a floor-to-ceiling prismatic installation called Zuo Jing Guan Tian. It consists of dozens of the old frames which have been fitted with new glass. When one enters the installation, one is bathed in light produced by a lamp on top of it and from the reflection on the windows.

The title of the work is derived from a Chinese idiom about a frog that looks at the sky from the bottom of a well and hence has a narrow view of the world.

Song Dong.[Photo provided to China Daily]

“A person’s outlook is limited. Everyone can be that frog in a well. We jump out of the well and go into another well with a wider mouth, by which our knowledge is increased and our mental horizons are widened,” Song tells China Daily.

In the installation Emptied Bottles, he fixes several used bottles to a pole to represent cameras on a street. In this work, he looks at the relationship between those being watched and those who are watching them.

Song found his initial inspiration after his father’s sudden death in 2002.

To relieve his mother, Zhao Xiangyuan, from her sorrow and loneliness, he helped her sort and categorize the family’s possessions.

He then got the idea to transform the objects for his first project-Waste Not.

He sorted the items accumulated by his family for decades and displayed them to focus on the usefulness of the useless.

“I used to hate the things because they took up so much space. But when I laid them out with my mother and sister, I saw in them a slice of a common person’s life,” he says.

Song’s art also looks at the relationships among people and between people and objects. He says the items of daily use have meaning only when used by people, and every item carries memories and shared sentiments of individuals, families and a nation.

In 2011, Song furthered his concept of the art of waste with an exhibition called Wisdom of the Poor at Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art.

There, he used old items to show how people living in hutong used their ingenuity to improve their environment.

In his work, Song focuses on the lives of ordinary people and their propensity to consume.

He says people enjoy displaying their wealth through excessive purchases, and businesses persuade them to keep replacing old things with new ones, producing a lot of junk.

“Our extravagance today means that someday in the future we will have nothing to waste.”

If you go

10 am-6 pm, closed on Mondays, through Feb 27. Pace Beijing, 798 Art Zone, 2 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang district, Beijing. 010-5978-9781.

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