Philadelphia Art Alliance Blog

Introducing Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen: The Way of Chopsticks

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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. 

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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.

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