Critics’ Picks

View of “Song Dong,” 2013.


Song Dong

4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art
181-187 Hay Street
January 5–March 30

The Chinese artist Song Dong’s eclectic output can sometimes project indifference, but it can also be surprisingly intimate. “Dad and Mum, Don’t Worry About Us, We Are All Well” explores Song’s relationship with his deceased father, and serves as a reader of sorts for “Waste Not,” a concurrent exhibition at Sydney’s Carriageworks comprising over ten thousand neatly arranged objects collected by the artist’s mother during the last five decades of her life. Whereas in “Waste Not” Song provokes consideration of time and accumulation via a reflection on his mother’s hoarding complex, his exhibition at Gallery 4A is more diaristic, combining video and photographic works with numerous personal quotes by the artist emblazoned on the gallery walls.

The personal is always political for Song, and so a work such as Touching My Father, 1997–2011—in which video footage of Song’s hand is projected onto two framed photographs of his father—is at once a private expression and an archetypal representation of generational disconnect, symbolizing the relationship between a father who suffered through the Cultural Revolution and a son who came of age during the Tiananmen Square protests. The use of superimposed imagery in the work is repeated throughout the exhibition to portray familial ties through a revisionist perspective; this can be seen, for instance, in the two-channel video projection Father and Son Face to Face with a Mirror, 2001; the photograph Family Member Photo Studio, 1998; and the single-channel video Father and Son with My Daughter, 1998/2010, which stages an interaction between Song’s daughter and his father, who died before the girl was born. Reminding one that “touch” can refer to both an emotional and a physical connection, the exhibition juxtaposes Song’s unabashed sentimentality with his tactile treatment of the video medium, with some of the works created by filming scenes in front of preexisting footage, instead of more sophisticated digital editing techniques. Framing a personal account of post-Maoist relations between Chinese parents and children within the universal themes of family and memory, Song’s exhibition uses art therapeutically to rewrite the shortcomings of the past.