Lot 1135
  • 1135

Song Dong

650,000 - 900,000 HKD
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  • Song Dong
  • Stamping the Water (Set of thirty-six)
  • chromogenic print

framed under Plexiglas

Executed in 1996, this work is number twelve from an edition of twelve.


New York, Chambers Fine Art, The Way of Chopsticks: Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen, June - July 2002, p. 25
Paris, Centre Pompidou, Alors, la Chine?, June - October 2003, p. 289
Denmark, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Made in China: Works from the Estella Collection, March - August 2007, fig. 70
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Made in China: Contemporary Chinese Art at the Israel Museum, September 2007 - March 2008


Jean-Marc Decrop and Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Modernit¨¦s chinoises, Skira, 2003, p. 35
Paris, Espace Cardin, Paris-P¨¦kin, October 2002, p. 46
Lu Peng, 90s Art China 1990 - 1999, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, 2000, p. 261


Generally in good condition.
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Catalogue Note

"Vernacular Postmodern." This is how the art historian Wu Hung characterized Song Dong's multifaceted oeuvre, the art historian Wu Hung, writing in a 2002 artist book accompanying a joint exhibition of Song Dong and his wife Yin Xiuzhen entitled Chopsticks at Chambers Fine Art in New York. If the designation seems unorthodox, it stands up to reasoned thought. Indeed, for Song Dong, a native Beijinger who maintained a teaching job at a local high school well into the present decade, the highest form of wisdom is that of the people. Particularly, it seems, in the myriad context where the people encounter forces greater than themselves, be they political or natural.


Song Dong's work has taken many forms and media, although he is primarily known for his experiments with the photographic and videographic image. His still and moving images however are generally presented with the intent of memorializing¡ªand thereby transforming¡ªa transient action into the realm of high art. Take for example his iconic photograph Breathing (1996), which pictures the artist lying prone in the yellow light of Tian'anmen Square on a long January night, exhaling upon a paving stone to form a tiny patch of ice from his breath. The image resonates and transcends, easily interpreted as an apt characterization of [Chinese] man's encounter with the state. And yet for the artist it is simply the record of an action performed before an audience of four: his wife and three PLA Soldiers. The following morning, he continued the performance lying atop the icy lake of Houhai in central Beijing. In this case, the artist notes, "the ice remained as ice."[1]


Indeed an interest in water and ice pervades Song Dong's output of the mid-1990s. Central to this interest is his ongoing piece Writing with Water (1995-present), a variously documented daily performance work in which the artist brushes his daily observations in water atop a stone. Such a simple act is at once deeply resonant with the Chan (Zen) Buddhist tradition and with Beijing folk culture. (Old men writing calligraphy in water on pavement are a common sight throughout the public parks of the capital.) Song Dong has persisted with this piece in a way reminiscent of On Kawara's date paintings¡ªinsisting on the daily rhythm of writing, albeit transiently.


The present work can be seen as the culmination of Song Dong's hydrological experiments. This set of 36 photographs entitled Stamping the Water (Lot 1135) comes from a project curated by the American artist Betsy Damon which lasted for three short days, August 31-September 2, 1996, high on the Tibetan Plateau. Entitled Defenders of the Water Damon's exhibition included over twenty artists from China, the U.S., and Switzerland, all of whom created works on the theme of water. Song Dong's work is one of the few to have attained real prominence. In this extremely powerful sequence of images, the artist sits in a meditative position in the shallows of the Lhasa River, repeatedly stamping the flowing waters with a seal inscribed with the character for water. This action is futile to the point of poetry¡ªeven more than the writing of fading text in water upon a rock, the act of attempting to inscribe upon a flowing current the name of the substance which it comprises can be seen as an interrogation of the entire system of meaning and reference that underlies man's understanding of his surroundings.


Where other works by Song Dong have tackled themes that appear on the surface more mundane¡ªsoy sauce, for example, or the contents of his mother's home¡ªit is early works like Breathing and Stamping the Water which point to the massive ambitions of this exceedingly humble artistic mind.

[1] Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, p. 211.