^ Waste Not (wu jin qu yong), by Song Dong. Installation at The Curve, Barbican Centre, London, until 12 June 2012. All images by deconcrete2012.
<Comprising over 10,000 items collected by Song Dong’s mother over five decades – ranging from a section of the house to metal pots and plastic bowls to blankets, bottle caps, toothpaste tubes and toys – the installation is a tribute to his mother, as well as a meditation on family life during the Cultural Revolution. The activity of saving and reusing objects of all kinds is in keeping with the Communist adage wu jin qu yong – ‘waste not’ – a prerequisite for survival during periods of social and political turmoil.
During the early post-War Communist years in China, being frugal was the only way for a family to survive. Song Dong’s mother, Zhao Xiangyuan, saved everything, including items we might view as rubbish or junk – for instance, old pieces of used soap and empty toothpaste tubes – for possible future use. Even when things improved a fear of shortage was ever present, leading to a life of thrift. Following Song Dong’s father’s death in 2002, she sank into deep depression. As Song Dong says, I understand her need to fill the space with those daily life objects more as a need to fill the emptiness after my father’s death. The artist wanted to make her happy and for her to find renewed purpose in life, to bring her out of the depths of grief, so he proposed that she work with him to make her possessions a work of art. In exhibiting her life, her things, and her philosophy: It gave my mother a space to put her memories and history in order. Song Dong’s mother died suddenly in 2009, but did install the first showing of Waste Not in 2005 in Beijing.>