Both spirited, highly independent creative visionaries, husband-and-wife artists Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen were discussing ways in which they could collaborate over dinner one night in their Beijing home when they realized they were holding the answer in their hands.
“Chopsticks are very simple, just two sticks, but if they collaborate they can do many, many things,” Song explains. “I think they’re a great tool for life.”
They also serve as a symbol for two individual entities working in conjunction to achieve a goal. Since 2001, the couple has created several iterations of their collaborative conceptual art project “The Way of Chopsticks,” which will take over the Philadelphia Art Alliance beginning this weekend.
For these projects, the two each work separately and in secret from one other based on certain agreed-upon parameters. “One artist plus another artist working together is more powerful than two artists working separately,” Song says. “But we keep our independence.”
In Philadelphia, they’ll explore the evolution of family dynamics from the Cultural Revolution to the present day, using three floors of the Rittenhouse Square home-turned-arts center. “I think it’s really interesting to explore a family working together in the context of a domestic space that’s now a public space,” says Art Alliance senior curator Sarah Archer. “They’re looking at how we live and how they live and the contrast.”
Song and Yin arrived with their 10-year-old daughter, Song ErRui (who has christened herself the “Third Chopstick”), making the experience a family affair. “I think it’s very interesting for one family to give the gift of art,” Song says. “We brought Chinese life and western life to play together in the space.”
The installation begins on the first floor of the Art Alliance, where discarded furniture has been repurposed to comment on the shifting lifestyles of Chinese families over the last four decades. The second floor features several of the couple’s iconic chopstick sculptures as well as Duchamp-inspired reframings of older works. And the third floor showcases a split-screen film starring Song ErRui, each half directed separately by one of her parents.
Family has long been a key concept for the pair. Song is perhaps most famous for his 2009 MOMA exhibition “Waste Not,” which collected a lifetime’s worth of his mother’s possessions from toothbrushes to flip-flops. Yin’s work has largely used textiles to recognize the role of women’s labor; she represented China in the 2007 Venice Biennale. As Song says, “Art is the center of our family.”
The Way of Chopsticks
Sept. 12-Dec. 29
Philadelphia Art Alliance
251 S. 18th St.