Contemporary Public Art in Shanghai
“What is most perfect seems incomplete, yet its use will never be exhausted. What is most full seems empty, yet its use will never fail.” The perfect thing seems to be incomplete, and the full thing seems to be empty. However, the seemingly incomplete or empty things will never be exhausted. It reveals that the perfect nature of the infinite things in the world comes from its imperfection.
In artist Song Dong’s “Ruo Chong Garden”, it quotes the maxim from “Tao Te Ching”. He uses the abandoned old doors and windows, daily necessities and wastes that remain the memory of Shanghai to build an “abstract realism” landscape like a sea of lights. It is called the installation of events, in which all the stacked objects will be constantly updated and absorbed in time, like a huge vortex of life, absorbing the abandoned objects in the surrounding community or environment. Just like hundreds of lamps from different families, though they have once lighted up different people, they are now gathered together in one place because of abandonment.
As Song Dong said, it is turning into a stage, and the participants’ creativity will continue to give it new life. In this sense, “Ruo Chong Garden” is no longer about the collection of objects, but about the collection of life. It is separated from thousands of families or work scenes via abandoned behaviors in a dead or useless way, reendowing it with the scene of resurrection and usefulness, and becomes a bonsai about life.
“Ruo Chong” is emptiness. This philosophy of life about the use of useless is just like a poem about evaporation. It makes us think about the uselessness of human existence behind the uselessness of the existence of things. Behind the shortage of things is the shortage of people. In Japan, there was a period of “stone fever” in the last century. Mugi River patterned stone, Moji plum stone, Kamanashi River dragon stone, etc. are all priceless bonsai treasures. Although the aesthetics of it comes from China, it still drives countless stone lovers in Japan to rush into mountains and rivers like gold diggers, just like the life that many of us pursue regardless of safety. However, after the economic collapse of Japan, those stones and their collectors, the meaning of life and the exile of self-doubt, inevitably went to uselessness and deficit.
Life is like a substance. This statement reveals another interpretation of the sentence “what is most full seems empty, yet its use will never fail” in Tao Te Ching: the essence behind the boundlessness of all is emptiness. Like sea waves, it sweeps away layers of metabolism regarding existence from our lives. It presents a mandala of the void, which blooms and radiates from the center, layer after layer, yet disappears on the verge. Like what Song said, he hopes the work can stay eternally, but he knows eternity does not exist, so he intentionally prevents the work from being fixed and unchanged. Through bonsais, he tries to evoke a kind of “residual value” from uselessness.
This residual value is presented as an abstract “reality effect”. It becomes constructive rather than subordinate. In this sense, the useless items are given new information by art and turn into a new ritual of restarting life. “Ruo Chong Garden” constructs this type of ritual that magically and mysteriously converts, by employing bent and colored mirrors to connect the dimensions of uselessness and usefulness. The artist tries to evoke the “residual value” in life and to seek our existential meanings all over again through the abandoned fragments of our lives.
This is a form of humanism. In the various public works of Song, he always tries to communicate with the meanings of humanity in our lives. Different from Duchamp, Song maintains both the truthfulness and livelihood of substances, at the same time keeping the independence of life and art intact. It continues the spiritual essence of Arte Povera. Just like what Western critics saw in Christians’ abandonment of asceticism and Franciscans, it shows a type of spiritual materialism and reveals the artist’s discovery of existence amongst the most mundane and trivial substances.
Here in Song’s work, this profound mystery of existence demonstrates a sense of abundance from the statement “its use will never fail”. As a space for the relationship between the work and the environment, it becomes an extension of the bodies and spirits of human communities. Through the format of art, it links the metaphysics of life with the environment, ready-mades, nature, and their surroundings, reaching the harmony of Eastern aesthetics.
Song extracts two imperative elements from art: freedom and difference. They represent his attitude toward his creative practice and the surrounding world. In this multilayered garden, he recomposes the useless items that are damaged and exiled, through the hands of introspective people. This means that “Ruo Chong Garden” is a ritual about unions of people. At this place, everyone will find his or her metaphysical rebirth.
Artist: Song Dong
Artwork: Ruo Chong Garden
Year of Creation: 2019-2020
Material: Used doors and windows, steel, glass, mirrors, colored mirror panels, concrete, broken tiles, collected lamps, daily objects of residents, used objects and wastes in the factory, etc
Dimension: 12.6m×6.9m×6.5m(L), 6.6m×4.2m×4.9m(M), 4m×3m×3.9m(S)
Venue: Binjiang, Yangpu District, Shanghai
Entrusting Party: Shanghai Municipal Planning and Natural Resources Bureau; Shanghai Yangpu District Municipal Planning and Natural Resources Bureau; Shanghai Yangpu Riverside Investment Development Co., Ltd.
General Contractor: Art Pioneer Studio
· Production: Artist's Studio
· Transportation, Installation, and Production Assistance: Top Space (China) International Trade Co., Ltd.
· Construction & Landscape: Shanghai Luwan Landscape Development Co., Ltd.
· Supervisor: Shanghai Zhenhua Engineering Consulting Co., Ltd.
About the artist
Song Dong was born in Beijing in 1966. He graduated from the Fine Arts Department of Capital Normal University in 1989 and now lives and works in Beijing. Song Dong emerged from the early Chinese avant-garde art movement and became an important artist with international influence in the subsequent development of Chinese contemporary art. His artistic practice spans multiple fields such as performance, video, installation, sculpture, photograph, and painting. He explores the concept of impermanence and explores the transient nature of the human condition and creates his art and lives his life with the idea of "no boundaries". Song Dong has participated in numerous important international art exhibitions including Documenta 13, the Venice Biennale, the Sao Paulo Biennale, the Gwangju Biennale, and has held large-scale solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands, the Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf in Germany, the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai and other public institutions. Song has won awards including the Grand Award presented by the Gwangju Biennale, the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA) for Outstanding Achievement, the Artron Art China (AAC) Video and Installation Artist of the Year, and the Power 100 of Chinese Contemporary Art: Artist of the Year. His works are collected by important museums and art institutions such as Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, M+, and Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, among other important museums and art institutions.