Song Dong

Each day for the last decade, Chinese artist Song Dong has written his diary in water on a stone. This process of revelation and evaporation goes against the archival function we traditionally associate with diary keeping, but it highlights the artist’s interest in the fragility of representation and fixed memory—a concern he shares with Paul Ramírez Jonas. And like Matta-Clark, Song Dong finds inspiration in the deterioration of the built environment. Both Song Dong and his wife, the artist Yin Xiuzhen, have collected fragments of buildings from around Beijing, and made works employing these bits of ruins left behind as the city redevelops and tears down its traditional buildings.

In his travels over the past four years, Song Dong has accumulated snapshots of himself at tourist sites such as London’s Trafalgar Square, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, and Paris’s Eiffel Tower. Burning them one by one, but documenting their immolation, Song Dong pulls back from the complete erasure evident in his water diary. In the resulting artwork, there is a moment when we realize that the film is actually running in reverse: the flame is constituting the image, and the fire is revealed to us as a kind of curative force. Destruction unleashes its creative power. Concluding with an image of the artist standing before the High Line, Burning Photograph further suggests the prescriptive and yet destructive effect photography can have upon the ways we think of place—places we have been to, those we have yet to visit, and those we can never attain.

Compilation of video images from Burning Photograph, 2001–2005