Song Dong : Same Bed Different Dreams at Pace

“The purpose of my work is for the city I build to be destroyed… As cities in Asia grow, old quarter and buildings are knocked down and new ones built, almost every day. Some cities have even been built from scratch in twenty years… My “sweet” city will be built of biscuits and candies, making it tempting and delicious. I call these candies “gorgeous poisons”. Being pleasurably tasty but harmful of overeating, their features correspond to some of the characters of our city today. We eat the city we have built and tasted through our desires and demolished it at the same time until it became a ruin.” Song Dong, 2006

Same Bed Different Dreams, refers to Song Dong’s continual return to the same core ideas via a variety of methods. His practice embraces a wide range of media; performance, photography, video, sculpture, installation and calligraphy, often within a single work. Song’s radical approach blurs the lines between past and present, fact and memory, humour and trauma.  

Always working with the humblest of materials, Song Dong constructs installations using the detritus of old Beijing. Discarded furniture, and parts of demolished courtyard homes can all be easily identified in Song Dong’s most recent body of works. Taking centerstage in the exhibition, Same Bed Different Dreams No. 3 (2018) has been created using everyday household objects, such as crockery, pendant lights and decorative knick-knacks. These mundane objects are presented on a double bed carrying the memory of the rise of his generation, behind a polished case composed of salvaged window panels, the useless byproduct of modernization. Though each window has been carefully enhanced by Song Dong with vibrantly coloured mirror or glass, their recycled nature is nevertheless evident from the still flaking paint and rusting latches. These collaged remnants of people’s homes carry with them the history of a city and the lives of its people. As viewers are invited to peek inside, they are transformed into voyeurs: imagining their homes, their stories and perhaps identifying shared experiences, and primed to think of the future.

Food is a shared experience for all, it sustains life while creating culture and ritual. Song Dong has turned to food as a medium and subject throughout his career, utilizing its common nature to resonate with the broadest audience. Edible Penjing No.1 to 4 (2000), is a set of documentary photographs taken before the interactive performance of the same title, held at Gasworks, London in 2000. These images remain the only remnants of the edible sceneries after audience gluttonized them. In imitation of traditional painting and Penjing (bonsai) art in China, Song used basic foodstuffs such as salmon, chicken thighs, minced meat and broccoli to create four miniature landscapes, accompanied by calligraphic inscriptions intentionally written in crude brushstrokes. Non-Chinese speakers may assume these are lines of elegant Chinese poetry, in fact a list of ingredients and cooking methods used to create the artwork: “three salmon heads, cooked in a microwave, and a little bit of skin, embellished with green cauliflower, pour on soy sauce; other seasonings, add to taste”.

Song Dong relies on this assumption by Western audiences in order to fulfill his intention of humorously juxtaposing two contrasting cultures and stimulating curiosity. Such playfulness is a recurring theme in Song’s practice as he strives to comment on East-West dynamics against the increasingly globalised modern world.

The exhibition runs until 5th November at Pace in London.

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Image: Photography by Damian Griffiths.