Beijing artist Song Kun’s It’s My Life (2005–2006) is an enormous installation of 365 small canvases, each representing a day in the artist’s year. Exhibited at Universal Studios—Beijing in the fall of 2006, the paintings were grouped more or less in chronological order, often in horizontal bands that stretched across the gallery’s walls; blank canvases were used to represent days of inactivity. Far more than an oil-on-canvas blog, It’s My Life offers viewers a series of elliptical narratives and moody moments rendered with a lush, sometimes despondent beauty.
A melancholic fog clouds many of Song’s paintings, making them feel like slightly out of focus snapshots in which the air hangs thick and heavy, weighed down by a sense of loss. Flashes of light reflect back at the viewer, cutting through the haze and sharply contouring surfaces such as skin, metal, and glass. It’s a technical trick that turns emotionally charged details into symbols in a vivid, fleeting, dream. One particularly poignant painting depicts a young couple riding their bicycles through a moonlit night, enveloped in a mist that renders the image part fading memory, part wistful fantasy. In a rare diptych, a man and a woman face one another in profile, sitting beside the windows of a train or airplane, illuminated by a mottled gray light. Such images capture the simultaneous desire and inability to say goodbye characterizing the artist’s overall relationship to the past, a weary nostalgia that shadows the entire installation.
Even in Song’s most simple works, everyday objects are transformed into portals that open onto the artist’s inner life. An oval wall clock with filigreed silver edges makes one acutely aware of time’s passage, provoking anticipation; the heel and toe of a leather boot, emblazoned with a swooping hawk, suggest a rebellious sense power. Elsewhere, a single event is explored over a series of days, revealing the artist’s gift for storytelling through her selection of details: an evening wedding unfolds in images such as the embroidered hem of a wedding gown, a floral arrangement of stargazer lilies and pink roses, and the dim interior of a hotel room.Throughout the year, Song experiments with a variety of approaches: we see nods to anime, Chinese landscape painting, and the still lives of Chardin, among others. And while Liu Xiaodong, the well-known painter and Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts professor, has certainly assisted in Song’s development.
A founding member of the N12 group—twelve ambitious young graduates of the Central Academy who have been organizing their own annual exhibitions—Song Kun was educated after the Cultural Revolution and raised in an era of accelerated urban and economic development. As a result, she and her compatriots are articulating new visual languages to express concerns that are less overtly political than those of their predecessors. Without lapsing into narcissism, It’s My Life gives viewers a very contemporary glimpse into the lives of Beijing’s youth, but ultimately Song’s finely crafted paintings invite us to meditate on the emotionally charged, fragmentary moments that constitute our own days.