“Everything that can be of some use should be used as long as possible”

The installation by Song Dong in The Curve at The Barbican is this sentiment taken to the extreme.

‘Wu Jin Qi Yong’ (Waste Not) is a collection of over 10,000 things amassed over five decades by his mohter, Zhao Xianyuan. The items range from the obviously ‘useful’ things (bits of string, screws, pencils, fabric etc) to those harder to understand from a logical point of view (empty toothpaste tubes, bottle tops).

However, in sorting all the objects whilst putting the installation together, Zhao Xianyuan commented to her son, Song Dong; “You see that keeping them was still useful!”. In creating this piece, it levelled them all out; gaving equal purpose to all the items. Looking at it, it is visually impressive, but for Song Dong, it was about giving his mother a way of saying goodbye to her past and to move on.

It made me wonder what it’d look like if I lay all the objects in my life out around me, what it would look like… (reckon I’d definitely have more pencils & pens than Zhao Xianyuan for sure!)

The history of ‘things’ having greater importance than just their functional value (the use of the object); the exchange value (the cost); the symbolic value (such as wedding rings); or the sign value (comparative between a type – one car will be be more powerful, be a bigger status symbol etc) is long, so it makes sense that the inventory, display, shedding or destruction of those same things would be equally as powerful an idea.

See also Dave Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge where he aimed to break free from the confining habits of American-style consumerism, Daniel Miller’s Comfort of Things where a London Street is defined by the residents and their relationships to their possessions, or Michael Landy’s Breakdown where he used a large machine set up in an Oxford Street shop to destroy all 7,227 things that he owned.

“I’m always trying to get rid of myself,” he says, “so that I can move on. And then I end up always coming back to the same themes…”

If you fancy a bit of a purge yourself, you can take part in Michael Landy’s ‘Workshop on Destruction‘ on June 16th/17th as part of the Southbank’s Wide Open School this summer.

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