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Song Dong b. 1966, Broken Mirror, 1999; Courtesy of the artist

Song Dong b. 1966, Broken Mirror, 1999; Courtesy of the artist

Song Dong & Xu Bing in this Week's Artvoice

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Artvoice's Jack Foran on the installlations by Song Dong and Xu Bing at the Burchfield Penney


Photo documentation of a performance art piece in the Burchfield Penney Contemporary Project Space features a pig with tattoos and mannequin, also with tattoos, in pathic pose. The pig can’t resist. He becomes amorous. It starts with some innocent-looking kissing and cuddling, and proceeds from there. To just what consummation isn’t clear, however. In the last frame you see the pig with an enigmatic look, maybe of satisfaction, maybe of frustration.

The mannequin is tattooed with what look like Chinese written characters. Look like, given that the pig is tattooed with Western alphabetical characters forming a variety of Western language words or slogans that upon closer inspection seem to be so much nonsense.

Look like also in consideration of another work by the same artist in the corridor outside the Contemporary Project room, consisting of three signs with figural graphics and again apparent Chinese written characters. In this case, if you don’t understand Chinese written characters—I don’t—no problem, because the graphic items indicate that the signs indicate, respectively, men’s restroom, ladies’ restroom, and a facility with a baby changing table. But then further inspection of the (apparent) Chinese written characters reveals you can read them after all. They’re a joke. Not Chinese written characters at all, but turn out to consist of alphabetical letters that look like Chinese characters, and spell out, respectively, “Men,” “Women,” and “Nursery.”

The artist is Xu Bing, originally from China. He studied art, in particular printmaking, at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing, and has lived and worked and exhibited widely in the United States, and currently serves as vice-president of the CAFA.

The title of the pig and mannequin work is A Case Study of Transference. Referring possibly to the pig’s transference of human quality to the mannequin. Or animal quality, preferably. In the sense of animate and the sense of non-human. You hope so, anyway. The signs with alphabetical words that at first seem to be Chinese words seem to represent an even more complicated transference, involving language. But consider also that the pig and mannequin were tattooed with (apparent) words, that is, (apparent) language. Also, the tattoos may have been transfers. One’s head spins.

Sharing the Contemporary Project room are two video pieces by Beijing-based artist Song Dong, one simply about breaking glass, the other about breaking images, iconoclasm, literally.

You see a street scene, somewhere in China, pedestrians and people on bicycles going about their business, then a crash—the sound of glass breaking—and instantly a different street scene, different people, looking to see what just happened.

And the same or similar scenario repeated. An initial image in a plate glass mirror, that then the artist smashes with a hammer, and immediately you see in the other direction, what was behind the mirror.

The Chinese people are just like us. They’re startled, puzzled, wonder what’s going on. What is this guy doing, smashing mirrors?

In the second video, the same artist is breaking glass. With a pliers, into shards and splinters. Dangerous work, clearly. But not clear for what reason. It looks a little obsessional. A little crazy.

The Xu Bing and Song Dong exhibits continue through July 28.