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.
The 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.
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.
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:
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