Touching My Father



Performance by Video


This artwork is displayed in exhibition OutLook in Redtory Museum of Contemporary Art (RMCA) 


Recording performance art is always more important than the art. Being aware of the significance of the media, Song Dong is taking it as a part of the work. In Touching My Father 1997, he recorded a hand in advance and then he projected the hand on his father by a projecter, through which, he touched his father by the virtual hand. The records of performance art is not only a record, but also a performance art. Reality and virtuality talk inside the artwork. The utlization of real image and virtual image becomes a distinctive style in his work. 


"Touching My Father 1997 While I was touching him with my video projected hand, he was smoking. Unexpectedly, with his eyes on my 'hand' ,he started to take off his jack, the shirt and the vest until he was half naked, feeling my hand with his bare back…"


"Touching My Father 2002 I was not brave enough to touch my father with my real hand until he passed away. But he could not feel me anymore. His body was cold, so was my heart and the ineffaceable sadness… I recorded this touching with video. The forever-lasting sorrow has caused me incapable of watching the video. The touch therefore has been sealed up in the videotape and will never be opened up."


"Touching My Father 2002/2011 In the video, my father was teaching my sister’s daughter Zhu Mo how to play a peg top, a game he played during his childhood. This was the last family video before he passed away and it was happened to be shot at the Ancestral Temple. Since father's death, I had always wanted to do this third 'Touching Father'. But it was 8 years later when I first had the courage to face father’s image. This time, the touching was so hard."

When I was young, my impressions of my father were taken from photographs; sometimes pictured alone, sometimes standing among a group of people. I was aware that he was always on business trips, while I was attending kindergarten. We hardly saw each other. During the late 1960s, my father was sent to Wu Qi Carder School in Hubei. (Carder Schools were set up by the Communist Party to “re-educate” citizens to transform their thinking to align with the ideology of the Cultural Revolution). He was gone for a long time. My mother once brought my sister and me to visit him. I did not know that he was denounced as a counter-revolutionary. I have a very blurred memory of the Wu Qi Carder School. All I can recall was the “scorching weather”, “a dog named Xiao Huang”, and “a big trench” we had to cross in order to watch outdoor movies. What was left in my memory about my father’s appearance was a man wearing “the yellow uniform used during the war to resist U.S. aggression and aid Korea” with “a face with a prickly beard”. I knew that he had never joined the military but I still had a moment of fear. During that time, soldiers were symbols of veneration and dignity. I knew he loved me so much. While his beard was poking my face, I felt warmth, affection and pain. I seem to still be able to feel all these sensations today. One day in 1973, I saw my father walking towards me from the entrance of the hutong. I did not step forward to welcome him but turned around and ran home instead. I knew it was because of the double effect of happiness and fear. My father was finally home! 

Then there was my unlimited admiration for my father. I loved to listen to the stories he told me; to play with all kinds of wooden guns and knives that he made for me. I thought that there was nothing he could not make. I was trying so hard to imitate him. My father was the authority and my idol. But there was still a quality of fear within me, accompanied by strangeness and respect. I gradually grew up and my feeling towards my father greatly changed. I started to challenge what he said and started to make my own decisions. I realized that there was a very deep generation gap between us. I was still scared of him. I always knew that he was my father and he never lost his dignity as a father in front of me. Whenever I had disagreements or conflicts with him, I kept silent and “refused to confess to the enemy” as if I was the little hero from the Eighth Route Army. I was rebellious and passive aggressive. 

In 1996, I was thirty, an age when a man is supposed to have matured and have an established career. In Chinese culture, we have a term for this, “san shi er li”. I made a work entitled “san shi bu li”, which literally means “not being mature and established”, the opposite of “san shi er li”. I asked my mother about things that had happened every year since I was born. I wrote down these stories told to me by my mother and my own memories throughout those thirty years using Chinese calligraphy, accumulating a total of thirty stacks. But I never asked my father about anything. I knew I was trying to do things my own way and to be special. But my father was still awe-inspiring to me. “Father guides son” is one of the three cardinal guides (the other two are “ruler guides subject” and “husband guides wife”) in the feudal family ethical code, which is still emphasized in China today. I also grew up in a tradition that believed in this.

 I went to Berlin in 1997. I was solitary and homesick in the midst of a strange language and cultural environment. I re-thought the communications I had had with my father. I started to realize that my father had his own reasons for what he did and said, which was, in many aspects, his truth. My respect for him was gradually restored. I wanted to express my love for him. I wanted to touch him many times. I understood this would be very difficult because there was a big gap between us. Finally, I came up with the idea of using video with the image of a hand that is “visible but not in a materialistic form”. I projected the video of my hand touching the air onto my father’s body. I used my “virtual hand” to touch my father. He accepted this “hand” and I experienced a complex feeling. It was very hard to explain and my father was experiencing a complex feeling as well. We did not have any conversations about it. But my “virtual hand” was breaching that invisible gap between us. I truly felt the power of, and am truly grateful for, art. 

In touching my father, we had built a bridge between the still-deep generation gap. We began to try harder in our communication. We did not define each other by each other’s ideas anymore. We both had our own way of living. Although father still did not agree with my choices in many aspects, he told me “you’ve grown up. My opinions are only suggestions. Your choices need to be your own.” While before he often used imperative terms such as “you should” or “you must not”, he started to change his vocabulary to “I suggest” or “I will keep my opinion to myself”. I was moved. I felt my father’s strength.

Touching My Father became the most important event in my life. Although the work has never been shown before, it opened the door for Art to enter my family life, becoming the center of our lives. It also turned into the lifeline that brought the relationship between my father and me into a new era.

1997-2011 Song Dong