Galleries: A house full of chopsticks

The Philadelphia Art Alliance has had many kinds of exhibitions in its day, but none that has allowed an artist team of two and their 11-year-old to take over all three of its floors, as the Chinese artists Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen and their daughter, Song ErRui, have done with their collaborative series "The Way of Chopsticks."

You also might wonder why Song and Yin, who had never before worked in a historic house, thought the 1906 Wetherill Mansion, designed in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo, would be a compatible site for their series about contemporary family life in China. But this curious matchup works wonderfully.

Known for their individual practices since the early 1990s - he as a photographer and performance, installation, and video artist, she as a performance and installation artist - Song and Yin also work separately as collaborators, a circumstance that underscores all the sculptures, altered found objects, and installations that make up this series.

Everything comes in two parts, just like chopsticks - it was no accident, apparently, that Yin came up with the idea of chopsticks as a parameter for their as-yet-to-be joint project over dinner one night.

The alliance's first-floor galleries set the solemn, ominous atmosphere that carries throughout the exhibition. Different pieces of furniture and appliances - from tables and chairs to a refrigerator - have been cut in half, each half reinvented by Song using windows or Yin using stockings, and then arranged together side by side.

On the second-floor landing, visitors are greeted by a makeshift wall with doors for men's and women's public restrooms. In the men's room, one encounters a golf green of fake grass surrounded by mirrors; in the women's room, an enormous chandelier hangs above shared faux-concrete facilities. (A naked female doll that appears to have been stabbed to death completes this scene, a gruesome touch that seems gratuitous when it's easy to imagine such an event in this unpleasant room.}

The second floor is also home to the couple's collaborative sculptures that use chopsticks as a model, and through which, finally, their senses of humor occasionally emerge.

Each artist makes one of the two "chopsticks" not knowing what the other's will look like, the result being a two-part sculpture such as Fake (2013), for which Song made a "chopstick" that looks exactly like conjoined camera lenses but that is composed of handheld vacuum cleaners, piggy banks, thermos cups, pencil sharpeners, and other items. Yin's surreal contribution, a vastly elongated dog bone constructed from soft sponges, brings to mind works by Louise Bourgeois and Meret Oppenheim.

Though she's represented by a one-half chopstick sculpture on the second floor inspired by her love of wolves, daughter Song ErRui gets her chance to shine on the third floor as the lone star of her parents' two-channel film, Future, which plays in a continuous loop, and shows her moving through empty rooms searching for companionship. It's an obvious commentary on China's one-child policy, but so dreamlike and eerily well-performed by Song ErRui that it easily achieves a state of art.

 


Philadelphia Art Alliance, 251 S. 18th St., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 12 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 215-545-4302 or www.philartalliance.com. $5; $3 students and seniors. Through Dec. 29.

 

Bad news

Crime and violence have often inspired art, but in "No Bingo for Felons," a traveling group show on its second stop, at Arcadia University Art Gallery, we not only see just how broad a reach they've had into the echelons of art, but how frightening, even in a representation that is clearly invented, the subtlest hint of danger or mayhem can be. The show also has the distinction of being organized by two artists - Julian Hoeber and Alix Lambert - who've explored violence as a subject in their own works.

Some pieces guaranteed to give you the shivers: a lifelike bust of a crime victim, Anna Duval (1977), by the late forensic artist Frank Bender; Zoe Strauss' 2011 color photograph of a police car at night, recognizable only by its LED lights; vintage photographs of crime scenes from the collection of writer Luc Sante; and the album cover for Yoko Ono's LP Season of Glass from 1981, her first solo effort after John Lennon's murder, showing his bloodied glasses and a glass of water on a table in front of a window overlooking Central Park.

 


Arcadia University Art Gallery, 450 S. Easton Rd., Glenside, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays; noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. 215-572-2131 or www.gallery.arcadia.edu. Through Nov. 3.

"Galleries" by Edith Newhall and "Art" by Edward J. Sozanski appear in alternate weeks.