Posted by James Hart, 13th May 2012
A Chinese Artist of international renown, Song Dong's 'Waste Not' installation at the Barbican Curve Gallery, comprises of over 10,000 household possessions and part of the family home. The installation is a tribute to his mother, Zhao Xiangyuan, who made this extraordinary collection over a period of five decades.
The activity of saving and re-using objects of all kinds is in keeping with the Chinese adage wu jin qi yong – ‘waste not’ – a prerequisite for survival.
Following Song Dong’s father’s death in 2002, Zhao Xiangyuan sank into deep depression. Her desire to fill her life with things regardless of their possible use became more marked and more disturbing to witness. It was clear to Song Dong that his mother had a ‘need to fill the emptiness after my father’s death’. In an attempt to help his mother find new purpose in life and to bring her out of the depths of grief, Song Dong proposed that she work with him to make her possessions – in effect, the family home – a work of art. In exhibiting her life, Song Dong has said that: ‘It gave my mother a space to put her memories and history in order’.