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Philadelphia Art Alliance presents Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen's transformative new exhibition
Song Dong, Yin Xiuzhen and Song ErRui with "The Way of Chopsticks III". Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Art Alliance.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Created by two of China’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, the Philadelphia Art Alliance’s 2013 centerpiece exhibition transforms the historic Rittenhouse Square mansion into a three-story multimedia exploration of modern family life in the U.S. and China. Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen’s The Way of Chopsticks (on view September 12 through December 29, 2013) is supported by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the Mindspring Foundation and the Asian Cultural Center.

The Art Alliance’s former role as a private residence has inspired the internationally renowned Beijing-based husband-and-wife artists to come to Philadelphia with their 11-year-old daughter, Song ErRui, to create a new series of their famous chopstick sculptures, as well as a dual-screen video installation that explores the evolution of family dynamics from 1970s China under Mao Zedong to the only-child-oriented present day. From a familial, cultural and generational perspective, The Way of Chopsticks explores this significant cultural shift toward a nation of individuals, using a domestic setting to explore these complex ideas.

“Early in their lives, the artists grew up largely disconnected from the West; in the China of their childhood, families were large, and individuality was suspect,” says senior curator Sarah Archer. “Their daughter’s 21st-century Chinese girlhood is vastly different: Song ErRui is bilingual in English and Mandarin, an avid basketball fan, and, thanks to her parents’ occupation, a sophisticated world traveler. The Way of Chopsticks addresses this fascinating generational divide with aplomb, referencing objects we encounter on the smallest cultural scale — the household — to explore a story that affects their entire nation.”

Song Dong has been a prominent figure in the Chinese art world since the early 1990s when he first came to attention through performances such as Breathing. Song Dong’s conceptually based practice embraces performance, installation, video and photography, but the references are always highly personal, based on his own life experience and that of his family. Recent important exhibitions include Waste Not (2009) based on his mother’s possessions accumulated over a lifetime and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); and The Wisdom of Poor People 2005-2011, exhibited at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing, in 2011.

Yin Xiuzhen was one of China’s first female artists to gain recognition in the early 1990s. Conceptually oriented and active in performance and installations throughout China and internationally, Yin Xiuzhen’s work concerns family and daily life experience in Beijing. Although she works in many media, she is widely recognized for her use of textiles as in Project 92 at MoMA, New York in 2007. She also represented China at the Venice Biennale in 2007.

Since 2001, the Beijing-based husband-and-wife artists, who each have distinct and thriving careers of their own, have collaborated on a signature long-term conceptual art project that balances the importance of independence and partnership: they create singular large-scale chopstick sculptures, built according to certain agreed-upon parameters, but completed in isolation. Neither artist knows what the other will do until the final sculptures are revealed and joined together. The artists believe that chopsticks serve as an ideal metaphor for family: Just like the everyday domestic objects they create, they feel they could not function — creatively or as parents — without each other.

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