Dior Lady Art: Chinese artist Song Dong reinvents the iconic handbag

Song Dong melds fashion and philosophy in his colourful contribution to the latest Dior Lady Art collaboration. Michael Cheung takes a peek inside the Chinese artist’s world to learn more about his never-ending quest for freedom

My artistic universe spans many fields and explores the concept of the transience of human behaviour and the relationship between life and art in the context of Eastern traditions,” explains Song Dong. The Chinese multimedia artist is one of 10 artists chosen for the fifth and latest edition of Dior Lady Art, in which the French fashion house invites creative types from around the world to reinvent its iconic Lady Dior bag.

For Song, whose career developed during a period of significant political and social change in China, mirrors and windows have become recurring elements within his practice. These everyday objects form a reflection of the ephemeral nature of human behaviour and explore concepts such as idleness, usefulness and the absence of limits.

It’s only natural, then, that he revisited the Lady Dior with refined graphics and colourful compositions mixed with mirrors. “Windows” transforms the bag from an object of desire to a symbol that engages in the dialogue of freedom and openness.

Photo by Jin Che Yan

As the wearer moves, the bag continuously shifts in appearance according to light, shadows, places and faces. This endless metamorphosis speaks to the beauty and vitality of life. “The mirror is as important as the window,” Song says. “I call the mirror a philosophical object, which is the medium of self-cognition. This bag is also a mirror bag. When the wearer uses ‘Windows’ as a mirror, the mirror will change the user’s face. ‘Windows’ reflects the world outside it and coexists with the world inside it.”

Tell us more about your background. What are your most emblematic works?

I was born in 1966, during China’s Cultural Revolution. The social environment, with its limited resources, and the education system, with its limited scope, helped me forge strength of character. The scarcity of materials, the country’s seclusion and the control of ideology made Chinese people’s lives simple or even uniform at that time. I’ve loved freedom since I was a child and suffered a lot for it.

I see painting as a way of free expression. It laid a solid foundation for the love of art I later developed and remains an important part of my life. The reform, and China opening up, has given us a new life. I graduated from the oil painting department of Capital Normal University in Beijing, and taught art in middle schools upon graduating in 1989. These life experiences and processes, as well as life itself, have become my creative energy.

Photo by Jin Che Yan

“I call the mirror a philosophical object, which is the medium of self-cognition … ‘Windows’ reflects the world outside it and coexists with the world inside it.”

Song Dong

My representative works include Waste Not, Water Diary, Touching My Father, Breathing and Broken Mirror as well as the Wisdom of the Poor and Surplus Value series. The installation Waste Not displays all kinds of daily necessities that my mother Zhao Xiangyuan and I are unwilling to throw away. My mother and I cooperated to discuss the nature of existence and the cyclical memories used to record history and emotion. I’m also heavily interested in merging opposing elements of East and West.

Photo by Jin Che Yan

How do you see the relationship between fashion and art?

Integrated and borderless.

What do you think of the deep, lasting ties that Dior has cultivated with the art world ever since Christian Dior founded the house in 1947?

Art is the usefulness of uselessness, and the soul of spiritual life. If art permeates every aspect of life, life will increase in vitality. An art collector and former gallery owner founded a fashion brand and let the breath of artistry enter life through objects, giving people access to the existence of art in another way. This kind of cultivation in the art world is worthy of respect. Art is all around us.

Photo by Valentin Hennequin

What are your upcoming projects?

This year I will have an outdoor project, entitled Water Shadow Wall, at the Hayward Gallery in London.

See also: Lady Art #2: 10 artists reinvent the Lady Dior

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