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Memories of the People You Love
Some art that made me cry this week
Some people believe that everyone has two lives, and we will die twice. The first death is the body’s physical death, while the second death is when the last person in this world that knew you is dead and nobody knows who you were anymore.
Song Dong (2022)
This week I watched a short video featuring one of China’s leading contemporary artists, Song Dong, whose work explores memory, relationships, the transience of life and the idea of impermanence. In the video (8 mins) he describes a project he made with his father before he died in 2002 about their relationship. Song talks about how his father used to hug him as a child but as he grew up they gradually stopped physical contact. And yet the memory of his father’s touch lived strongly in his mind:
I found Song’s words and art profoundly moving, as though he was speaking directly to me. His impermanent calligraphic water writing, which disappears while he is still in the process of painting, made me think about the memories I grasp at when I remember my own father who died earlier this year. Song says ‘we paint and write because we want to remember’. I too have felt a need to write things down in order to keep the memory of him alive.
The video brought to mind a neon text installation, The People You Love (2010), by the British conceptual artist Robert Montgomery. His words are full of imagery, like he has painted an idea in light. This piece sort of looks like it’s a billboard, a capitalist space which usually bombards us with images and messages to encourage us to consume. Instead Montgomery has diverted the infrastructure of capitalism towards a moment of quiet contemplation.
I first saw this work one evening as the light was fading in London back in 2010. All those years ago I thought about lost love and relationships ended. Today it’s all about my old Pa.
As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.