Installation view of SONG DONG’s Mandala City for Eating, 2017, edible installation, dimensions variable, at the Kathmandu Triennale, 2017. Courtesy Kathmandu Triennale.

Song Dong

Also available in:  Chinese

Since graduating from the Capital Normal University in Beijing during the momentous turbulence of 1989, Song Dong has been at the forefront of conceptual art in China. He developed his penchant for working with humble, readily accessible materials, as part of what art critic Gao Minglu called the late-20th-century “apartment art” phenomena. Ranging from photography and video, to installation and performance, Song’s works almost always employ ephemeral materials that leave minor traces in everyday settings, if at all. Since his video Frying Water (1992), he has continued to use the medium in many performances, such as Chinese Ink and Water Diary (both 1995), to highlight the futility and impermanence of human endeavors that attempt to change one’s environment. For one of his most iconic performances, Stamping the Water (Performance in the Lhasa River, Tibet, 1996) (1996) the artist stood in freezing water and repeatedly stamped a large wooden seal bearing the Chinese character “water” onto the ceaselessly flowing river. Photo documentation of the performance was featured at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s survey “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” (10/6–1/7/18).

Song has remained focused on providing a subversive yet poetic critique of society’s changing landscape and life’s transience, captured through his interactive installation Eating the City (2017), which was featured at the Kathmandu Triennale (3/24–4/9), and in his solo exhibition “Collaborations” (9/1–10/29) at the Kunsthal Aarhus in Denmark. In this project, Song invited the audience to eat a large-scale architectural model of their respective cities made from biscuits, wafers and candies.

Having turned 50 years old in 2017, Song began his quinquagenarian celebration with his acclaimed monographic show at Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai titled “I Don’t Know the Mandate of Heaven” (1/21–6/4). Among his new creations were Mirror Hall (2016–17), in which, like Through the Wall (2016) that was showcased at Art Basel in Basel’s Unlimited section (6/15–18), the artist assembled dozens of salvaged doors and window-frames and refitted them with mirrors, activating an immersive and infinite-seeming space, referencing cultural and political boundaries in society. The exhibition’s title work comprises 50 dolls posed in the act of daily rituals, including one reenacting Song’s famed performance Breathing, Tiananmen Square (1996), at once reflecting on and immortalizing the artist’s career in its meta presentation.

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