Amidst the chill of Friday night my co-workers and I walk the streets of downtown San Francisco curious, blind-eyed and eager to observe the pieces of Chinese culture ahead. Upon entering the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, we filter through a crowd of art- intrigued folk. Excitement bounces through the opening night air of Song Dong‘s Chinese Conceptual Art exhibit: Dad and Mom, Don’t Worry About Us, We Are All Well. Bold reverberations of the live band thump from our feet to the two- story ceilings above as we scan the scene. Captivated by different pieces, my co-workers and I immediately split up.
I scour the exhibit. The honorary conceptual artist, Song Dong, meshes artistic mediums to visually represent his fractured, family- inspired past in China. Ten minutes into the exhibit I realize that words cannot label or categorize Dong’s creations; it is only understood when felt and viewed without bias.
Attempting to avoid the crowd, I escape to a dark room. Inside a triad of video projections illuminates the scene. Each identically displays a clip of Song’s father staring into the lens; piercing the vinyl screen and connecting with the eyes of the viewer. His expression: numb. Smoke and flares of fire dance in the near distance. Coasting through the room, I absorb the images that waiver on the walls like water. Unable to understand the spoken Chinese dialect, I observe Dong’s work judgment-less, rather enfolding myself in the emotions of each piece.
Now familiarized with the art, I recognize that Song Dong’s work transcends artistic categories or movements; it’s an expression derivative of his familial experiences, in which the absence and emotional distance of his father acts as the dominant influence. Exiting the dimly lit section of the gallery, I enter the next segment of the exhibit known “Waste Not,” which initially resembles a flee market. Hundreds of family-acquired items blanket the cement floor. I soon learn this space displays a collection of his mother’s hoardings, beginning after her husband’s death during a resource-sparse period in China.
The collection of items creates an endless list. Old Chinese liquor bottles nestling upon a wooden cupboard. Dusty, yet empty, tofu and moon-pie boxes neatly placed in rows. Within close proximity lies several bird cages, a dozen hair combs, pounds of string, dead lighters, empty toothpaste containers and decades of worn shoes. Looking up to my right I spot a vast sea of colored recyclables covering a section of the cement floor. Slightly overwhelmed by all the items, I divert to a corner of open space to watch the viewers meander the room in admiration of how clutter has become awe-inspiring, often head scratching art.
Traveling upstairs, I scope out the second floor of the gallery. My body jolts as the center echoes with intense banging beats of drums, thumping in an escalating trail. The crowd nears the railway to gaze at the young Chinese musicians dressed in red and gold, as chimes of symbols ring. Shortly after, a pair of Chinese dragons bounces down the staircase, cocking and tweaking their over-sized heads to the beat of the banging drums. Their bodies wiggle in unison, genuinely resembling excited creatures roaming the gallery floors. We all watch and smile as the life-like dragons dance, jump, and sniff out the freeze form crowd. The combination of the pounding drums, authentic movements and elegant poise throughout several risky stunts quickly enamors me with the craze of Chinese dragons.
Reflecting on the entirety of the exhibit, I realize that neither the art itself nor the vibrant performance of Chinese dragons solely moved me. Rather it is the story behind this collection that tangibly humanizes the emotional manifestations within Dong’s art . These emotions effectively connect the viewer to the artist. Dong’s message may not be blatant, but when you really flow with the dots he provides you can catch a glimpse of the artist’s many emotional layers. I recommend this event for any open-minded individual. You can safely expect an exploration of international culture through a lens we all can relate to: family. So, if you’re in the mood for something unique and creative that transports you back in time through the variance of art, then Song Dong’s exhibit at the YBCA is worthy of adding to this month’s evening out.
EXHIBIT: Song Dong’s Chinese Conceptual Art exhibit: Dad and Mom, Don’t Worry About Us, We Are All Well
WHEN: February 26 – June 12, 2011. 12:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. from Thursday- Saturday; 12:00 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Sunday; closed Monday through Wednesday except for the first Tuesday of the month.
WHERE: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street (at 3rd Street)
San Francisco, CA 94103
TICKETS: General admission is $7, $5 for students, seniors and teachers; free for YBCA members and free on the first Tuesday of the month.