For those who may have pondered what a mountain made of meat might taste like, Chinese artist Song Dong answered that gastronomic inquiry on Thursday evening at Pace Wildenstein gallery, where the artist created a site-specific food landscape to complement a conversation between himself and Sarah Suzuki, an assistant curator at MoMA. The subject of their talk was Waste Not, an installation comprised of the artist’s mother’s belongings now on view at MoMA until September 7th.
Waste Not is 3,000 square feet of carefully displayed ephemera, including linens, crockery, and all manner of quotidian wares, accumulated over the past fifty years by the artist’s mother, who passed away earlier this year. Though Song’s mother was born well off, her standard of living greatly diminished in the wake of China’s Cultural Revolution, and she began hoarding belongings as a way to ensure that she and her family would never be without. Waste Not reflects not only on Song’s personal relationship with his mother and her need to find safety in objects, but also on the character of a nation struggling to learn how to function in a state of deprivation. When Song completed the work in 2005, it was, for his mother, almost a playful retribution. Her response to the piece amounted to, “See Song, everything is functional.”
Song’s work is informed by the past, andit is interesting to note, when considering his practice, how richly his work communes with Western conceptual artists of the 60s and 70s. Water Diary (1995-present), for example, focuses on the artist’s ongoing practice of writing calligraphy underwater. This evanescent series finds a conceptual and aesthetic relative in a black-and-white film by Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers, which portrays the artist composing a letter with ink that immediately washes away in the rain. Both works explore the public and private existence of the written word, proposing the notion that letters aren’t ever really meant for others –perhaps they are meant only for ourselves.
At Pace, Song’s sculpture was surely meant for everyone — especially those who arrived with an empty stomach. For previous works in this vein, Song has presented massive gingerbread houses-cum-cityscapes made of locally sourced cookies, which were greedily devoured and consumed by his audiences. As a comment on the creation and destruction of civilizations, these cookie communities could be considered a slightly sweeter entry point to the artist’s “meat mountains.” Though not strictly made of meat — one landscape presented on Thursday was a pile of chocolates — Song has recently been making food sculptures of such terrains, which also reference Chinese scroll paintings (a poem about the food is painted above each dish). In the gallery, the sculptures served by the artist, somewhat intimidating piles of roasted pork, prosciutto and chocolates, were happily consumed by many in the audience while blurring the line between landscape sculpture and communal trough. Reformulating the idea of what it means to be a cultural consumer, Song’s edible sculptures also provide an object lesson in the pleasure principle: The piles of chocolates were by far the most popular snack, while the broccoli floret trees held less immediate appeal.