Beach house


Beach house
Following the visit to the Groninger Museum and the exhibition of Song Dong
In the Groningen Museum of Chinese artist Song Dong to see his first solo exhibition. Dong established his first house in the middle of the front gallery of the temporary exhibition entitled ‘Life is Art, Art is Life.’ A small square wooden shack. A bed, a small round cast-iron stove, a small office table with a chair. There is no room for anything else. Moving and vulnerable. On the wall hangs a portrait of, I suppose, Mao Zedong. You immediately feel like a voyeur. It is reminiscent of other private scenes from everyday life such as Tracey Emin’s bed in London, and the complete café Kienholz in Amsterdam. Whoever goes to the the top floor of the Groningen Museum is also at once a voyeur. The household of Dong's mother is neatly displayed. The title is ‘Waste Not’. The entire floor of the museum is filled with absolutely everything that Dong’s mother collected in her lifetime; Furniture, jerry cans, kitchen utensils, tools, printed materials, funnels, radiators, a countless amount of plastic bottles, bags, boxes, and clothing, children’s push-chairs, toys, playing cards, numerous pairs of shoes, fans, combs, clippers, lighters, radios, telephones, pick-ups, floppy disks, flower pots, also broken ones, absolutely everything. I look more closely at it all. Knick knacks. Sometimes there are undefinable things, you can hardly believe it. Styrofoam packaging, buckets, ropes, a morbidly large amount of medicine boxes, a punctured football, suitcases and handbags. Even those ice lolly sticks and decorative sorbet umbrellas, stones, or a stack of soap. Clutter lies littered around; cans, yes, empty cans and pieces of wood.
A woman is looking, she is visibly moved. We start talking. I wonder, would I like to exhibit my mother like that, with everything she collected in her life? No, you display quite frankly part of a personal life. That makes not only Song Dong himself vulnerable, but also his family, his parents. He uses his parents' privacy for his works. Song Dong met this woman in Beijing. It was when he was setting up the same exhibition. She explains that privacy in China is seen quite differently than in the Netherlands. "The things owned by Song Dong’s mother are collective, everyone has these things," she says. Later on I also find out that the word ‘privacy’ does not even exist in Chinese.
The installation is a monumental still life. Dong has made ‘Not Waste’ into a work of art, the size of a museum floor. An amorphous piece of art because it can be arranged differently in every museum. You can walk through it. Observe every detail. The colours of the pots stacked on top of each other, the series of plastic bags folded into triangles. Well, it is not private because these are everyday things. But still, you can see which and how many drugs are used, you can see what sort of clothing and footwear there was. Who keeps waste? Most of what you see would usually be discarded. It is in any event so special that you keep thinking about it. Good or not good, it does not really matter. I consider exhibiting something personal. Not something of my mother’s. But something of the family, something resonant with privacy. Something out of context in a museum gallery, which has taken half a lifetime to get the way it is, and that you would not sell for a million. Can you guess what it is?
Photo 2:Song Dong ‘My first home’ Art is life, life is art, Groninger museum
Photo 3:Song Dong Not waste, Groninger museum