Review - Song Dong: Waste Not @ Barbican (The Curve)

I had been meaning to take in this installation for some time, and today, after an afternoon at the Museum of London, turned out to be the perfect opportunity. I began with reading the lengthy introduction Song Dong provides to the piece, outlining a significant amount of detail on the inspiration, notably his mother's life. Growing up in post-war China under communist rule, she was raised in a time of extreme frugality to ensure survival. As her life grew and changed, the need for this intense frugality waned, however her need to save - anything and everything - remained. The way Dong describes it, it is as if the objects began to fill voids and harbour memories she was unwilling to let go of.

At a glance, this could just look like a pile of stuff, which really could be from anyone's house. But upon a slow, careful inspection, each item has been kept and cared for in a very specific manner; plastic bags folded in neat triangles, squares of fabric scraps wrapped with string or ribbon, books piled neatly. And Dong's arrangement within the gallery takes the viewer from the impersonal to the personal, moving from bowls and pots, to boxes and toys, and finally to clothes and shoes. It is remarkable the things that make you realize how far away from home you are; whilst looking at the installation, it occurred to me that many of the objects are similar to those my mother has kept around the house. Unlike Dong, I often encourage my mother to get rid of things she is keeping for sentimental reasons that are no longer of use. This installation and its memory-infested objects hit home, and caused me to re-consider this perspective.

I strongly recommend checking this out. It is free, and runs to 12 June, 2012 in the Barbican Curve Gallery.

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