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When I asked Song Dong his plans for his Open Studio, he said that he wanted to make a series of edible Pen Jing. Through these miniature landscapes, Song Dong explores with irony and great incisiveness the relationships between art and life and between Western and Eastern cultures. At the same time, as a mark of his gratitude, he has wanted these landscapes to serve as an offering to Gasworks.

As a young boy, Song Dong rejected the art of Pen Jing because of its almost exclusive reliance on beauty and appearances. In time, he began to recognise that Pen Jing's role as a cultural signifier is more complex. While it represents a particular aesthetic, it is also symbolic of how life, be that of a tree or of a human being, is determined and shaped by its context.

Moreover, to Song Dong, the edible Pen Jing raise questions about a work of art extending beyond the realm of the visual and pervading all aspects of life. For instance, during the Open Studios at Gasworks, the Pen Jing were broken, eaten and thereby taken away from the art space. So, does the work still count as art?

For Song Dong, it was paricularly interesting to see the way in which the work was received by different people. Some went ahead and ate it, others did not. Perhaps because they were unfamiliar with such elaborate food display, or perhaps for fear of ruining a beautiful work of art.

Song Dong chose to prepare the Pen Jing with traditional British ingredients - including mashed potato, salmon, carrot, mincemeat and broccoli - rather than Chinese food products. In so doing, he attempted to find a point of contact between the Chinese and British cultures. Often, he says, a Westerner's knowledge of Chinese culture begins and ends with Chinese restaurants and there is a tendency to consider the food as exotic, both in provenance and taste. But Song Dong's work collapses the divide between the two cuisines, exposing how, too often, culture is perceived in terms of appearance. Many of the Chinese people who attended the Open Studio found the Pen Jing appetising even though they usually consider British food bland.

Song Dong's interest in establishing contacts, stimulating curiousity and raising questions is further marked by the role of the captions that accompany the Pen Jing. He explained that while many non-Chinese speakers value the visual appeal of Chinese calligraphy, they fail to appreciate the poetry, which is an integral part of the picture. For Pen Jing, he chose to list the ingredients used, but also titled the landscapes with extracts from poetry by illustrious Chinese thinkers, changing some of the orginal words. This linguistic playfulness mocks and demystifies the grandeur of the poetic statements. The irony is even more effective for a non-Chinese audience, who, on asking the meaning of the 'beuatiful' writings, discover that they are little more than a food list.

With the Pen Jing, Song Dong invited people to engage with the unknown, thereby creating the potential to discover the familiar among what at first appears unfamiliar. He claims that only by asking questions can we learn more and enhance our appreciation of other cultures. The only problem, he says, is that Westerner's are rarely inquisitive, as they tend to see themselves as the centre of the world. Understanding comes through dialogue.

This is why the experience of working with Song Dong has been so fulfilling both for us and for him. He embraced Gasworks as a family, answered all our questions and engaged in the dialogue that helps to break down cultural barriers.

Published in 'Song Dong in London', by inIVA (Institute of International Visual Arts).

Song Dong is one of a generation of Chinese artists to have come to the attention of the international art world in recent years. He is the seventh artists to receive a UNESCO-ASCHBERG Bursary.

Text by Alessio Antoniolli, Director