Thursday, July 30, 2009

Eros vs. Thanatos

This summer, MoMA's atrium was filled by "Waste Not", an installation by Song Dong-- the perfect antidote to Pipilotti Rist's "Pour Your Body Out" from fall 2008. Song filled the atrium with an orderly arrangement of all the contents of his mother's house in China, where she had spent a lifetime collecting every scrap imaginable, including pieces of used soap, bottles caps, and plastic packaging. Although originally a practical impulse, spurred by the hardship she endured, it became, at least as presented visually, a Collier-Brothers-level mania. The feeling of death, sadness, the utter uselessness of material objects, and the pathos of such a life of parsimony and thrift, coupled with the delicate compositions formed by Song, all created a paradox of lack, as exemplified visually by excess.

Rist on the other hand enveloped us in the perfect environment of comfort, pleasure, and idleness. Visitors lay on and within a gigantic donut cushion, listened to the lull of a dream-enducing soundtrack, and lapped up the visual feast filling all three walls with psychedelic colors, naked bodies animalistically cavorting in an Edenic landscape. I visited the installation three times, and I confess I wanted to spend a night, bring a book, maybe a meal [I did participate in a renegade yoga class that played with inhabiting Rist's world]. Oddly, in Song's installation, if I were allowed, I think I would want to handle each and every empty toothpaste container, each dirty glove, each bottle cap, to understand how one could possibly possess these trifling objects for such a long time. Song's emptied house, presented alongside its contents, was a Thanatos to Rist's multi-sensory Eros.
MoMa should be proud of finding two such site-specific works that challenge the gigantic emptiness of its five-floor high space.

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