Monday, August 3, 2009

Waste Not

On a recent trip to New York City, I had the chance to see a truly moving exhibit at the MoMA. Located on the first floor of the museum and visible from the four stories above, Song Dong's Project entitled Waste Not may not look like much at first glance. From a distance, it is seemingly just a collection of old junk, neatly organized into a thoughtful grid. I admit that I approached it with skepticism, expecting it to be a take on recycling by a hip artist from Generation Green.

However, this piece turned out to be far removed from my expectations, and touching in its sincerity. The Beijing-based artist Song Dong explains his project on a nearby wall, saying that during the Cultural Revolution his mother adopted the Chinese philosophy of wu jin qi yong— or "waste not." At the time, it was a matter of necessity— to save everything and use it to its fullest potential meant survival. However, long after it was necessary, the practice was maintained. Everything was saved, regardless of its usefulness. His mother's compulsion to keep it all, despite dwindling living space, worsened after the painful loss of his father.
This exhibit was conceived as a way to make all these seemingly useless items useful again as an art piece. It brought great joy to Song Dong's mother, who was happy to see that all of her efforts had paid off in the end. Sadly, she passed away shortly after the exhibit went up— but the material objects that represent her life (including the tiny frame of her home) are now on display at the MoMA until September 7th.


Sarah Martin said...

I had seen these images on the New York Times (?) earlier this week...I wasn't away of the story behind. Very compelling.

Robert said...

this is really quite interesting. i admit that without the explanation, the exhibit really isn't that powerful; however, with an understanding of the concept behind the work, one can really see how evocative and interesting this compilation of disparate items is. i'm really, really fascinated, and i would love to see this in person [although i fear i would cry].

regardless, amazing find!