Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts

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Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts
Memories and Beyond / 2010 Kuandu Biennale
Dong Song Article 1 (2010, 9) Art is Life ---Dialogue Between Dong Song and Bo Fong

Dong Song Article 1 (2010, 9)
Art is Life
---Dialogue Between Dong Song and Bo Fong

The characteristics of Dong Song’s artworks can be summarized as follows: Based on his personal memories and experiences, he captures the more than 30 year phenomenon of China’s rapid modernization, and combines it with his untamable imagination.  This fully demonstrates his creative talent and ability to work with a diverse array of mediums, which he skillfully weaves together.

Dong Song’s works hold an intellectual quality.   With his works, he overturns the obsessions of daily life and directly expresses common sense, thus departing from the constraints of reason.  Therefore, as he shuttles between reality and the realm of art to create his works, we can witness the materialization and intertwining of Song’s objective perspective and spiritual illusions.  Within the process of artistic transformation and through the morphing of images, fiction transcends reality and imagination to become polar opposites.  His elegant yet strange imagination create a sense of anachronism, in which historic figures and events get mixed up with current ones.  What is reality, what is expression, etc...?  These questions are all drowned out within the world of fictitious images. From this, it is evident that his creative approach goes beyond the expression of “plausibility.”  Within this newly constructed world of his, Song freely synthesizes a type of Zen-like “uncertainty” that is in a state of constant flux, which can never be grasped.   Thus, he constructs the “original state” of art and life.  For Song, this type of Zen-like “uncertainty” is definitely not a type of formality, rather, it is a specific attitude and stance towards art and life.   With this, the meaning of reality is not to be found within corresponding realities, but projected from memories of the past.

We can sense from Dong Song’s works the wisdom, “See a mountain, it is a mountain.  Visit a mountain, it isn’t a mountain.  In the end, it is seeing a mountain, it is only a mountain.”   Perhaps only with insight into this realm of life can one truly be so succinct and concise.  To conduct oneself with sincerity and peacefulness is the only way they can be true to themselves.

Fong: In your works, the boundary between life and art isn’t obvious.  How do you see the relationship between life and art?

Song: To me, life is art, and art is life.  An equal sign can be written between them!

Fong: Your works seldom revolve around a single main theme that expands into a grand narrative, and also does not usually use traditional or real-life symbolism.  But, it is not particularly “personalized” either.  Your field of view is much broader.

Song: Actually, for me, I don’t have a set style.  If I had to use “style” to define my works, I think my style is my “attitude.”  On this world, people don’t live in a vacuum.  They are inextricably linked to the outside.  What exactly is this link? How do you face these things?  What attitude do you use to face it?  Therefore, I am more concerned about the attitude of life and art.  I like contemporary art because of the freedom of its language.  It gives you lots of freedom, and does not require you to use it in any certain way.

Fong: Diversification of styles is one of the features to your works.  Can you talk more specifically about the relationship between “life” and “art.”

Song: At the earliest, I received formal art education, and contemporary art went against all that I had learned.   It stressed “form,” and, when I created works, I hoped to resolve personal issues such as “family relationships” through them.  To date, I think my best works include “Touching My Father,” “Water Written Diary,” and “Optimal Use.”  These works changed the way I viewed the world.  They not only ask you to view them, but also give you a feeling of commonality.  In some shifting of the media, this feeling can be awakened.  For example, after viewing “Optimal Use,” many people who are not of the artistic circle also have many feelings: Everybody feels that life is just this way, but not to the extremes expressed by my mother.  Once these objects are presented and the space has been replaced, people begin to re-examine them.  After the setup of the exhibition, I begin to take another look at these “objects” --- art in real life plays the role of a “medium” and “lubricant.”  Therefore, I thank art again and again.  Another example is the “Water Written Diary.”  At the beginning, I wanted to create an artwork.  But, in the process of writing, I gradually felt that it was becoming an integral part and habit to my life.  Now, if I have something to say, I write it through the method of “water writing.”

Fong: At the Kuandu Art Festival, you will be exhibiting your image work, “Water Memory.”  Is this an extension of “Water Written Diary”?

Song: This piece was created to fit the exhibition theme, “Accumulation of Memory.”  However, it is not a journal, but symbols freely drawn onto four stone slabs using white water.  These symbols include natural landscapes, everyday objects and so on, without any particular point.  Some are even very abstract concept imprints.  Under every stone, I install a heater.  When the paint brush is dipped in white water, the image of the symbol quickly evaporates.   Illogical fragmented images form a continuous moment or trace of memory.  Indistinct, looming, difficult to capture.  Life undergoes this type of transition.  

Fong: This is also your current attitude towards life and art?

Song: When young, this was the state of mind: when doing something, I hoped that everyone would pay attention to it.  Or when I used a different method to paint, I hoped that everyone would notice the difference.  But now, I no longer hold such a state of mind.  When the motivation and attitude undergo a fundamental change, the form derived becomes no longer important.  

Fong: As you said, art plays the role of a “medium.”

Song: For example, if you hosted an exhibition and invited me to participate, it might not be an opportunity for me to exhibit my work, but an opportunity for me to create it.  Let me give you an example.  Lin Leng’s planned exhibition, “It’s Me,” provides me a location, and this location was something that I could not previously attain on my own.  This “Imperial Ancestral Temple” space particularly fits the needs of my work.  Within it, even though no one has seen it, I have materialized my creation.  This is very important!  For another example, your planned exhibition, “Signs of Existence,” combines personal experiences with the realities of urban and rural junctions.  Both the exhibition method and the implementation of the works are very interesting.  Because my “Cabbage” is a special sign for the transition period from a planned economy to a market economy, I reduce it to “Cabbage” within the exhibition.  It has had a relationship with the people and environment surrounding it, as well as the experiences of the past.  

Fong: You just said that, through art, you resolved a few problems you have faced.  What were these problems, specifically?

Song: For example, family problems.  Through the piece, “Touching My Father,” I improved my relationship between me and my father.  When I went to Germany to participate in an exhibition in 1997, it was the first time I was so far away from home.  It was not easy to make phone calls and I could not speak the language.  I was feeling particularly lonely, and my way of thinking had changed.  I was “home-sick.”  In Germany, the piece I exhibited was  “One Hand Beating on the Floor.”  Afterwards, I thought of using that hand to caress my father --- to really touch him to express my feelings towards him.  That year, I was 30 years old.  I had always wanted to touch my father, but was never able to cross that “threshold.”  Therefore, I thought of using projections to touch him, which was convenient.  After returning to Beijing, I discussed this with my father, but, he disagreed, asking, “Why do you want to touch me?”  Afterwards though, my father eventually agreed. When he did, my heart tremored.  Maybe to others, this isn’t important.  But, to me, it is!  Because I knew it was very hard for my father to agree to such a request because it might undermine his authority ---- Being a father, how could he give up his bottom line?  Even for his children.  At that time, he was wearing a jacket on the outside and a flower-patterned shirt.  When I started to caress him, my father was smoking a cigarette.  Then, he gradually noticed and began to look at my hand.  When I saw him notice my hand, I then began to caress him from head to foot.  Afterwards, he took off his jacket, then his shirt, and finally, his vest, until he was bare armed.  My father seldom was bare armed in front of me because he wanted to maintain his dignity and authority as a father.  Through this process, we did not say a word to each other.  After I finished this work, I discovered that my relationship with my father improved a lot.  He began to understand everything that I was trying to do through this piece.  I also began to care about my father.  Our conversations also increased.  Sometimes we could talk with each other until past midnight.  “Touching My Father” is important to me because it made me re-examine the relationship between me and my father. When my father suddenly passed away, that was when I truly touched him with courage.  However, at that time, he no longer felt anything.  

Fong: This reminds me of your work, “Optimal Use,” which is closely related to the experiences of your mother.  When these things are fully displayed, one realizes that the feelings they kindle surpass the intrinsic concepts of “art.”  They contain a sense of changing eras.  Categorization of the artwork becomes irrelevant.  The work’s forms are very subtle as well, with every little detail an integral part to the piece.  Through reflection on your relationship with your parents, these two pieces solidify the connection between “art” and “life.”  Through these works, your social perspectives have changed.  You transform “Art” into a lifestyle, thus, making it an interface between people and society, people and nature, as well as between people themselves.  

Song:  Chinese people value family bonds.  My works express these bonds, not because of me, but, rather my Chinese heritage.  At most, people live to a hundred years of age and they experience many things.  Yet, there is one thing a person cannot choose: their heritage.  A person must face his or her heritage.  And, when we have our own children, we can then fully appreciate our parents’ affectionate care towards us.  

Fong:  Therefore, your works have a very down-to-earth feel about them. You don’t care about the art market’s trends.  Your works are personal.  Furthermore, I just thought of a question.  For example, you use fictitious imaging techniques in your works, “Water Writing Diaries” and “Touching My Father.”  For these pieces, your father agreed to take off his clothes because he was moved by your caring intentions?  I am most interested in these kinds of works of yours that portray the character of Chinese people.  Another example is your work, “Beat,” which includes many Zen related insights.  It made me think of Ping Xu’s work, “Dust.”

Song:  I personally appreciate and respect the Zen philosophy very much.  However, I don’t think I have reached a level of self enlightenment yet.  In my consciousness, art and life are equal.  There are two more things that equate to one another: “something” and “nothing.”  I feel that “something” and “nothing” are one thing.  For example, the light beam that I flash is “nothing.”  But, to me it is “something.”  Why do I create videos?  Some people see videos as a new media, but, I disagree.  Video art consists of works that can be seen, but not touched.  This expresses the relationship between “have and nothing” very well.  Within the exhibition you curated, “Fry Beijing,” a light beam was projected onto steam and walls.  In reality, there is nothing, yet we feel that there is something there.  

Fong:  Your work, “Print Water,” also embodies such qualities.  

Song: When I create art, I try to focus on certain topics, such as my familiarity with “water” or my interest in mirrors and introspection.  “Water” is amorphous.  It takes on the shape of its container and is just a blob in the vacuum of outer space.  It is only in real life that water has a defined shape.  I am fascinated by “water’s” three chemical states: liquid, solid, and gas.  In life, there are many mirrors: ones that you can see and ones that you cannot.  For example, we are having a conversation, in which I am reflecting on myself.  And, “I” represent many sides to my self.  When facing different people or situations, one adjusts their personality accordingly.  Thus, they wear many facades.  In reality, I take on many roles, which makes my work more complicated.  Today, I am a tour guide for a travel agency; tomorrow, I might appear in the guise of a “son;” the day after, I might become a person who broke the mirror.  Exploring myself allows me to gain more “contact points” with life.  

Fong:  You are very sensitive towards the concept of “borders.”  This includes your experimentation with the notions of “space” and “distance” in geographical, chronological, and interfacial boundaries.  For example, this is evident in your work, “Broken Mirror.”  The concept of borders and the space in between signify the transcending and connecting of two or more intermediate points.  This kind of narrative approach is sagacious, yet it challenges the form that the artist uses.  It is an expressive form that contains meaning.  Its success depends on the artist’s choice of medium, which ultimately decides the success of the artist to convey his intentions with the message; thus, the audience’s thoughts can easily extend to the realm of fables.  Is this your way of thinking?

Sung: Before, we referred to "something" and "nothing" as things.   The two opposing elements can be interchanged because both are absolute; however, I blur the boundaries that separate these two realms.  My work in Istanbul, Turkey, is an example of this.  For this piece, two mirrors are used to reflect "Asia" and "Europe."  The discerning boundary between Asia and Europe is a human construct.  However, this kind of artificial separation has caused the two continents to be different.  When viewing them, their scenery is different.  In fact, a sea separates them, yet they are also connected by land.  I create videos alongside the two mirrors.  There is a visual wall between the two mirrors, but this can be easily overlooked.  Thus, the boundary between Asia and Europe is blurred even though the two are impossible to reconcile.  The boundaries embody a sense of uncertainty, which dilutes the absoluteness of the separation.  Once the boundary is blurred away, a greater realm emerges that is larger than the two land masses combined.  It becomes a spiritual realm for deeper thought.  Once the two realms are intermixed along the limits of their partition, many questions arise.  Therefore, this work is called "The Realm of Broken Mirrors."  

Fong: Your works emphasize a lot on interaction with the audience, such as the series, "Eat."  Via the interactions, what kind of relationships do you want to form between the work and the audience?

Song: "To feed oneself is a basic priority of life."  "Eating" is a very integral part of daily life.  I want to change the relation between my work and the audience.  As a city is built on desires, I want to amalgamate those desires with the concrete and steel that form the city.  For my work, I only feature desserts because they are “sweet.”  These desserts are desirable, but, when eaten too many times, can become boring.  Sweetness is sometimes referred to as a "delicious poison."   

Fong: We often talk about the distance between contemporary art and the general public.  In your works, the audience has to eat your work for it to be complete.  If they don't eat it, then the work would be incomplete.  Thus, audience participation is key.

Song: To express artwork, the work has to resonate with the audience.  For this work, I used the opening ceremony to invite the pubic to eat the desserts.  Thus, the audience is drawn into my work.  Before, artwork was only viewed with their eyes.  Now, I wanted them to taste it.  The audience uses their appetite, which is a desire, when they eat.  But, they don't realize this.  In Nanjing, for one of my works, "Eating World," I used food to create a giant map of the world, which was devoured by the public.  On the second day in a seminar, someone told me that they felt as if they had been eating the world.  It was what I had hoped to achieve: In interacting with the public, my work inspired deeper thoughts and space for imagination.