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Desire creates a city, and the same desire consumes it: Chinese artist Song Dong

The ‘city’ he’d built painstakingly over the last four days was being ‘eaten’ in front of him, but Chinese artist Song Dong was enjoying the destruction of his own creation.

Song, who has been building model cities around the world using biscuits, cakes and candies (read ‘anything sweet’), says watching people consume his art is an experience he cherishes. “I first built a model city using biscuits in 2003,” the artist remembers. “Contemporary art gives you freedom to choose your medium and your language and that’s what I do,” he says.

Song, 54, who is at the vanguard of contemporary Chinese art, uses sugary edibles for his ‘city’ but the message he wants to convey through his art is anything but. “People like to eat sweets even when they know sugar is not good for health. I believe sugar represents the people’s desire to consume and it is this desire that fuels the growth of cities,” shares Song, who built a ‘mandala’ shaped model of Kathmandu using wafers, biscuits and chocolate bars last week as part of the Kathmandu Triennale.

He believes that the same desire to consume eats the city little by little and “this is how the world will end,” he says pointing at the ‘mandala’ he built. “I believe that like the mandala will cease to exist in a few hours because the people ate it, the world will also cease to exist someday because people would have eaten it.”

When Song exhibited his first ‘Eating the City’ exhibition in one of London’s shopping malls in 2003, the entire structure was gone in 50 minutes, he still remembers. “The people were there to shop. But when they say that there’s art that can be eaten, everyone wanted to have a┬ápiece of it.”

In Kathmandu, however, the ‘culture’ was a bit different. “In Kathmandu, the people consumed the city a bit slowly. There is a feeling of going slow here in the city. But I guess the venue also matters as the exhibition was held at an art gallery, not a shopping mall.”

Since 2003, Song has exhibited his ‘edible’ art around the world, in galleries, in open spaces, and inside buildings. “For me each experience has been different,” he shares.

For Kathmandu, Song chose the ‘mandala’ deliberately. The mandala, for Song, is a symbol of Buddhism, which calls for renunciation of desire. But his rendition of the mandala became a symbol of consumption, a contradiction he wanted to highlight.

The issue of consumption and desire was something the artist had to deal with when he was building the city.

“Did you eat pieces of the ‘city’ yourself?” he was asked.

“Yes, I did. So when I was building the city, some of the pieces got broken, and I ate those,” says Song. But for that also he has a reason. “The city is what we eat, and that it what makes us who we are,” he adds.

Where to go

His fascination for the city does not end there. The city is an integral part of our lives, he says. “Whenever we live in the city, we want to go to the wild. But if we are in the wild for too long, we want to go back to the city,” he adds.

As Song explains the philosophy behind his art, people continue to pour in and munch on the city. “But all this will end… it’s just a matter of time. The same desire that created the city will eventually consume it.”


Published on March 29th, Wednesday, 2017 11:31 AM


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