A house becomes a home when the owner’s belongings start to narrate his life story, documenting travels, everyday rituals and the passage of time. Objects are very important in establishing a house’s identity by creating a link between architecture and the inhabitant and in that sense, things do create space. Often architecture simply provides the white canvas onto which the inhabitants life is projected thus just by looking into someone’s house, considerable information about their personality is exposed.
Song Dong’s installation of his mother’s huge collection of objects throughout decades reveals more than just his family’s history. These objects also narrate the story of China’s Cultural Revolution where most commodities were rationed in very small quantities and consequently were considered incredibly valuable.
The touching tale of how Song Dong’s mother saved soap for years with religious devotion to give it to him as a wedding present only to realise that her son had no use for it because technology and the new social circumstances allowed him to own a washing machine, is quite haunting.
This simple story displayed next to the tower of soap clings to ones mind and has a humbling effect: we realise people’s lives under the circumstances were materially deprived, while nowadays capitalism has spoilt us in the exact opposite manner. This weird collection of things that today can only be seen as rubbish further proves that, while simultaneously keeps a record of the artist’s mother’s mental illness. Still there is much truth within this compulsive excess and also richness in information and emotion.
I personally noticed an urge in me to examine in detail things that could have been thrown in the bin but instead were preserved. With this careful observation somehow I paid respect to the collector’s diligence. I guess what I found touching was the love with which the objects were kept, out of care for generations to come and fear of possible shortages.
However what is of interest is the objects’ ability to define space. Looking at the old furniture made me think of the wall they leaned against in Song Dong’s mother’s house and the mark they left there once they were removed. This art work speaks of the way we appropriate spaces through things and documents how they become the glue that binds our lives stories to architecture. Without them buildings are nothing more than lifeless containers.
Song Dong’s ‘Waste Not’ at the Barbican until the 12th of June. Visiting information here