Neatly arranged around the wooden skeleton of a tiny traditional Chinese dwelling, the fruits of half a century's hoarding, a seemingly indiscriminate collection of items ranging from blankets to bottle tops, fill the Barbican Centre's Curve Gallery to the rafters. This is Song Dong's 'Waste Not'. The accumulator of the hoard was the artist's late mother, and how a family could go about their daily routine with all that stuff around them is totally impossible to imagine... almost.
My wife and I have been holed up the last two months in a tiny studio flat with a rapidly growing little newborn and her mother, over from China to help look after him.
She is a little younger than Song Dong's mother, but went through the same cultural upheaval. For her, mention of the sixties conjures up, not Op-Art and miniskirts, but her time in a Red Army entertainment troupe, spreading Mao's dictums to village folk through the medium of rousing song and dance routines. This is her first foray beyond the borders of the People's Republic. Partly because she speaks no English, she has not left our flat unaccompanied since her arrival.
Having spent her childhood aboard a working barge and her early motherhood sharing a decommissioned railway carriage with several other families, she is dealing admirably within our cramped surroundings. However, a typical day for her in China would include popping in on the neighbours and a trip to the market to buy provisions, getting her out of the house a bit.
No such luck in London. A Chinese mother is traditionally expected to rest in bed for a full month after her baby has been born. In a cramped environment such as ours, the onset of cabin fever can be pretty rapid. To fill in the empty hours when she was not cooking yet another meal, helping with the baby or washing our clothes to within an inch of their lives, my mother-in-law took to watching Chinese TV on Youtube, specifically period dramas. These involve romance, tragedy, intrigue, and an awful lot of weeping. Played back-to-back, they go on FOREVER, and, it must be said, my mother-in-law's a little obsessed. It must also be said that they get under your skin a tad after the 47th episode.
During this time we seemed to be accumulating a frightening amount of stuff, and frighteningly fast. First, gifts from generous wellwishers: a cot, a vibrating baby chair, a pram, a child car seat, and an unwieldy and wildly colourful 'jungle activity centre', and counting.
I would occasionally affect a brief escape from all that onscreen skullduggery and anguished wailing to get essentials from the supermarket, inevitably returning with essential books from local charity shops as well.
Now that my wife's internment period is over, she will be able to take her mum out to rekindle another little obsession of hers, shoe shopping, although she finds the prices rather high over here.
Like Song Dong's mother and many more of their generation, my mother-in-law's flat in China is a veritable warehouse, and footwear, in particular, can be found wherever you look. Some of the oldest, a few pairs she made herself out of fabric. These, dating from periods of scarcity, are worn and patched. More recently she has been buying shoes more or less in bulk, some of which she saves, untouched, for some nameless emergency.
In this issue of Artvehicle we are proud to present an artist's page by Mark Wayman, an interview with Frog Morris by Lee Campbell and reviews of Les Télévisions at French Riviera, by Elise Hammer; and performance event Climb Like A Cucumber, Fall like An Aubergine, curated by Artvehicle's own Ali MacGilp in Amsterdam, by Caroline Darke.