Waste not: trash to treasure

Many people consider their family life to be private, but not one of China’s leading contemporary artists, Song Dong.


Two exhibitions of his work opened in Sydney yesterday, showing not only images of his loved ones, but also the entire contents of his family home.

Minimalists and neat freaks may wish to look away.

Laid out in Sydney’s Carriageworks arts centre are ten thousand items from his family home.

Song Dong’s mother never threw anything away, having raised her family in hardship, during the fear and frugality of the Cultural Revolution.

Each item a potentially useful connection to loved ones, particularly to her late husband.

She was eventually convinced by her son to take it all out of the house, to create an exhibition.

“She said ‘if I show that, your friends know your mother is messy,” Song Dong said.

“I said it doesn’t matter about that, if I do, I will (be) famous.”

Becoming famous, the ‘Waste Not’ installation has been exhibited around the world, including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and most recently at London’s Barbican Centre.

It is considered to be one of the most important works to come out of China in the past ten years.

“What these objects represent is really a portrait of a family, but also a portrait of a time in Chinese history,” Director of Carriageworks,” Lisa Havila said.

“But I think what makes it really personal for audiences looking at the work, is it makes you reflect on what you carry through your own life.”

Hoarding items at home usually results in something of a chaotic mess.

This exhibition has taken that chaos, and turned it into something of an organised homage to hoarding.

Song’s family, including his sister, his wife and his daughter, travels with him to assemble the items.

And at the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, a collection of Song’s work, based on the traditional Chinese concept of family, is on show.

Connecting generations, who never had the chance to meet.

“Some of the more recent works over-lay contemporary footage of his daughter onto footage that was taken twenty to thirty years ago of his father,” Director of 4A Centre for Contemporary Art,Aaron Seeto said.

“Song Dong has made a site-specific work, which is a neon sign, which projects to the heavens. It is a neon sign which says ‘Dad and Mum, don’t worry, we are all well.”

The artist uses art to touch the past, in the present.

Waste Not was officially opened last night by Malcolm Turnbull MP, who reflected on keeping objects from his own family life.

The exhibitions will be on show until late March.

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