at first glance this exhibition may seem like a load of junk , but it is surprisingly poignant seen in context
how carefully the tubes of toothpaste were kept, the tubes perfectly squeezed, the caps retained
images via the guardian
Song Dong’s Waste Not
Song Dong’s installation Waste Not looks at first glance to be a collection of , well, rubbish. His installation of household waste and items that have not been used for decades is unbelievably vast. Where did his mother store all this stuff?
However, there is something poignant about this collection, the iron baby clothes, the flattened toothpaste tubes and even parts of his house talk of a personal history in the background of the Cultural Revolution. In order to fully understand this, it helps to live in China.
Everyday, I pass by the local hardware stores which are ubiquitous around here. Home Depot they are not. Things are piled high and you tend to have to ask for everything (hand signals and drawings help). It always amazes me that they can find anything. Maybe it is a cultural thing, but the piles in Song Dong’s installation are so familiar to me.
In Chinese culture there is a principle of :saving and re-using things - wu jin qi yong – ‘waste not’. In Hong Kong, it is slightly different, everything here is as new as can be…it shows your luck and prosperity. Old things are discarded. However, in China a few years ago things were different.
This exhibition shows Song Dong’s mothers fight for survival, where Mao’s reforms could mean famine. This is not hoarding- in the western ‘unbalanced mind’ kind of way- it truly is living from hand to mouth. Her collecting was also a way to fill the gap of her husband’s death in 2002. When the artist suggested making an art installation from the collection, she was pleased, saying “ Keeping those things was useful, wasn’t it?”
Waste Not is at the Barbican Art Gallery, London EC2, from 15 February to 12 June
21 March 2012