Philadelphia Art Alliance Blog

The Way of Chopsticks 2001-2013: An Ongoing Artistic Collaboration

by Mat Tomezsko

The Way of Chopsticks
is an ongoing collaborative project between Beijing-based artists Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen. Married in 1992, each artist has gained prominence and acclaim for their individual, accomplished careers. The Chopsticks project began in 2001 as a celebration of their ten-year wedding anniversary, as well as the ten-year anniversary of the first time their work was exhibited together. Inspired by the idea that it takes two chopsticks working together in order to function properly, the pair of artists decided to collaborate on a pair of chopsticks sculptures. In isolation from one another and without discussing concept or technique, each artist created one chopstick. When brought together, two unique sculptures become one, unified work. In this way, The Way of Chopsticks celebrates the communal nature of family and married life while simultaneously recognizing the importance of individuality.

self-shotThe first manifestation of their collaboration, Chopsticks, was exhibited at Chambers Fine Art in New York City in 2002. The couple worked together to create the titular pair of chopsticks, along with varied multi-media installations, all of which, according to a statement from the artists, explored the “theme of Eating, Drinking, Playing and Happiness.” The exhibition included an interactive piece called The Desirable Prize: Ping-Pong, in which the audience was invited to compete in a ping-pong tournament for an artist-made prize, as well as an hour-long meta-video of the two artists filming each other filming each other called Self-Shot. While the artists made the chopsticks separately, they made the rest of the installations together, with a tone of celebration, playfulness, and mutual admiration.


One into Two, 2006

The second exhibition in their collaboration, The Way of Chopsticks, exhibited at Chambers Fine Art in 2006, continued the exploration of duality through painting, video, and multi-media installations. The work reflects a change in the nature of their collaboration; in the first exhibition, the artists worked together on the installations, in The Way of Chopsticks, the artists worked separately on every piece. The exhibition featured a pair of chopsticks 25 feet long, again made without discussion of any detail save for an agreed upon size. Another piece, One into Two, was made from Song Dong’s childhood bed, with which he grew up, and in which the couple slept together when visiting Song Dong’s parents. They cut the bed in two and each altered half. This act reflected that the furniture represented different things to them since they’ve had their own distinct experiences with it.

Chopsticks III, exhibited at Chambers Fine Art in 2011, celebrated Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen’s twentieth wedding anniversary and the tenth year of the collaborative project. For this exhibition, the artists continued working under the established guidelines of their collaboration, creating work independently, and then combining it into a single work.

Chopsticks III, 2011

Chopsticks III, 2011

They produced a pair of chopsticks 40 feet long, dividing each into twelve sections. They both drew inspiration from the urban structures of Beijing and chose colors to compliment the theme: Imperial Yellow (Yin Xiuzhen) and the Red of the Chinese flag (Song Dong). The structure of Yin Xiuzhen’s chopstick reflects the cranes commonly seen in the Beijing skyline indicating new construction. The exterior of Song Dong’s chopstick is relatively mundane, while the interior, through video and miniature diorama-like constructions, intricately illustrate scenes of everyday life in Beijing.

After ten years of the Chopsticks project, the artists have adjusted to one another’s methods. In Chopsticks III, we see a more cohesive collaboration than in the previous exhibitions. They have successfully learned to create art together while maintaining complete creative independence.

For the next installment of the project, The Way of Chopsticks at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen have invited their eleven-year-old daughter, Song ErRui, to participate. The three family members have each made chopsticks for the exhibition. In addition, the exhibition will include work that is an expansion of One into Two, as well as work made completely independent from one another. The artists and their daughter have each made work in reaction to the Wetherill Mansion, feeling that the domestic history of the space is complementary to the themes of family, individuality, and interdependence present in The Way of Chopsticks.

For additional reading about Chopsticks, check out these articles:

Leap, Yishu Review, Art in America, CAFA

The Way of Chopsticks: Song Dong +Yin Xiuzhen is represented by Chambers Fine Art in New York City and Beijing.

Mat Tomezsko is the Programs and Events Coordinator at the Philadelphia Art Alliance


Basement Press: Joseph Pennell’s Scenes of Philadelphia, Remixed

Basement Press and the Philadelphia Art Alliance are pleased to present limited edition, hand-pulled and hand-colored prints by artist Eli VandenBerg!

Pennell and Eli

PAA staff recently rediscovered a treasure trove of old letterpress blocks depicting scenes of historic Philadelphia that date from the 1920s.  Many of these blocks were created by etcher, lithographer, and illustrator Joseph Pennell (above, left) who was born on July 4th, 1857 in Philadelphia.  Pennell studied at the Philadelphia Industrial Art School (now University of the Arts) and at the Pennsylvania Academy of  Fine Art.  He lived much of his life in London where he taught at the Slade School of Art.  Pennell was a friend and colleague of James McNeill Whistler, and published a biography of the artist in 1908 with his wife Elizabeth Robins Pennell.


Each block is cast in lead or copper and mounted on a wooden backing, lovely objects in their own right. The blocks were originally used to create various printed material for PAA, including newsletters, calendars, and souvenir postcards.

Basement Press, a collaboration between Eli VandenBerg (above, right) and Katie Baldwin, has teamed up with PAA to bring these blocks back to life. You can now purchase your very own print here in our Shop! They are individually hand-colored, and each one depicts a landmark or neighborhood in Philadelphia and environs. Rich in detail and period charm, they are atmospheric and lovely.

We hope Mr. Pennell would be proud.


Introducing Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen: The Way of Chopsticks


ON VIEW SEPTEMBER 12, 2013 TO DECEMBER 29, 2013 SD-YX Logo vertical copy Created by Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen, two of China’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, The Way of Chopsticks is a site-specific, three-story installation of sculpture and video, exploring domestic life, modern family life in the US and China, and cultural shifts in contemporary China. The Wetherill Mansion, a former private residence, and current home of the Philadelphia Art Alliance, has inspired the internationally renowned Beijing-based husband-and-wife artists to come to Philadelphia with their 11-year-old daughter, Song ErRui, to create a new addition to their ongoing series of celebrated chopstick sculptures, as well as a dual-screen video installation that explores the evolution of family dynamics from 1970s China under Mao Zedong to the only-child-oriented present day. From a familial, cultural and generational perspective, The Way of Chopsticks explores this significant cultural shift toward a nation of individuals, using a domestic setting to explore these complex ideas. “Early in their lives, the artists grew up largely disconnected from the West; in the China of their childhood, families were large, and individuality was suspect,” says senior curator Sarah Archer. “Their daughter’s 21st-century Chinese girlhood is vastly different: Song ErRui is bilingual in English and Mandarin, an avid basketball fan, and, thanks to her parents’ occupation, a sophisticated world traveler. The Way of Chopsticks addresses this fascinating generational divide with aplomb, referencing objects we encounter on the smallest cultural scale — the household — to explore a story that affects their entire nation.” Song Dong has been a prominent figure in the Chinese art world since the early 1990s when he first came to attention through performances such as Breathingin which Song Dong lay face down breathing on the surfaces of Tian’anmen Square and the frozen lake in front of the Forbidden City, changing slightly and fleetingly his environment with his body, leaving nothing lasting but a photographic record. 


Waste Not: Song Dong, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2009

Song Dong’s conceptually based practice embraces performance, installation, video, and photography. His subject matter is always highly personal, based on his own life experience and that of his family. Recent important exhibitions include Waste Not (2009), exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which displayed over 15,000 of his mother’s possessions accumulated over 50 years. Unwilling to throw anything away, her obsessive thriftiness ended up providing a documentation of everyday objects throughout a time of great cultural change in China.  Similarly, The Wisdom of Poor People 2005-2011, exhibited at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), and Beijing, in 2011, highlights the ingenuity and clever use and reuse of objects, property, and space by the poor living in the now-quickly-disappearing Beijing hutongs.

Yin Xiuzhen. Collective Subconscious. 2007. Minibus, stainless steel, used clothes, stools, music.

Yin Xiuzhen. Collective Subconscious. 2007. Minibus, stainless steel, used clothes, stools, music.

Yin Xiuzhen was one of China’s first female artists to gain recognition in the early 1990s. Conceptually oriented and active in performance and installations throughout China and internationally, Yin Xiuzhen’s work concerns environmental issues and family and daily life experience in Beijing. Although she works in many media, she is widely recognized for her use of textiles as in Collective Subconsciousexhibited at MoMA, New York in 2010, which featured a bisected minibus elongated by a tunnel-like-hallway woven from second-hand garments and fabric sourced from family and friends in Beijing. The audience is invited to enter into the interior, where pleasant music is playing and which contains benches. Being made physically of a once ubiquitous mode of transportation, and formerly stylish articles of clothing, the piece reflects the rapid pace of change and growing materialism and consumerism of Beijing society, as well as the growing disregard for environmental protection and conservation. Since 2001, the Beijing-based husband-and-wife artists, who each have distinct and thriving careers of their own, have collaborated on a signature long-term conceptual art project that balances the importance of independence and partnership: They create singular large-scale chopstick sculptures, built according to certain agreed-upon parameters but completed in isolation. Neither artist knows what the other will do until the final sculptures are revealed and joined together. The artists believe that chopsticks serve as an ideal metaphor for family: Just like the everyday domestic objects they create, they feel they could not function — creatively or as parents — without each other.

Please join us throughout the exhibition for programs and special events including artist talks, food tastings, gallery tours, and hands-on workshops for the whole family. To see a full list of programs and events, click here.

Please join us at the Opening Reception on  Thursday, September 12th, 7-9pm.