Song Dong: Waste Not

Barbican Art Gallery, The Curve, is the setting for an overwhelming installation by Chinese artist Song Dong in which the entire contacts of his mother’s house are displayed throughout the space for a work entitled ‘Waste Not’.

Song Dong’s mother Zhao Xiangyuan spent her life saving and reusing objects of all kinds, in keeping with the Communist adage ‘wu jin qu yong’ or ‘waste not’. With her husband sent to a re-education camp and her own father imprisoned unjustly for spying, Zhao was conscious of poverty and shortages around every corner. The exhibition features over 10,000 items collected by Zhao over five decades – ranging from metal pots and plastic bowls to blankets, bottle caps, toothpaste tubes and toys.




Going around the exhibition it is difficult to imagine a life that hard. There is a carefully constructed pile of bars of soap, some of which are older than Song Dong himself. As soap was rationed so heavily, Zhao saved up soap for her children’s future life. From a design angle, it’s hard not to admire the carefully arranged groups of kitchen ladles, the faded brights of the jigsaw puzzles and the retro lettering of the vast pile of carrier bags stretching back decades.




The installation is a tribute to his mother, as well as a meditation on family life during the Cultural Revolution and each time Song Dong curates this piece, helped by his sister, Song Hui, and his wife Yin Xiuzhen, the whole family is brought together again, bringing forgotten memories to the surface.


When Song Dong’s father died in 2002, Zhao became very depressed. 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.’ Wanting to take away his mother’s sadness, Song Dong suggested to her that she should work with him to make these possessions into a work of art: ‘It gave my mother a space to put her memories and history in order.’



Song Dong: Waste Not continues at Barbican Art Gallery, The Curve until 12th June  2012.

Image credits: Photographs by Jane Hobson, courtesy Barbican Art Gallery.


Visiting an exhibition can be a great way of becoming inspired for your own design projects. Could you use found objects or familiar pieces from your own home for inspiration?


The first book in our Basics Textile Design series, Sourcing Ideas, is all about how to be inspired by the world around you, and how to best harness that inspiration for use in your textiles projects.


The book suggests ways in which you can take inspiration from the natural world by looking carefully at colour, surface, structure, texture and pattern.





The book also contains contributions and case studies from the likes of:

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Read more about it on our website, where you can also read the first reviews from academics.

Also available: The Fundamentals of Printed Textile Design by Alex Russell.


Post courtesy of Arts Thread. You can also read their review of Sourcing Ideas here.