In China’s public spaces, one often sees people writing with water-dipped brushes on the ground—as a way to practice calligraphy, as a form of meditation or both. Song Dong’s Writing Diary with Water (1995–present) evokes this practice. At Walsh Gallery, four photographs of a stone tablet bearing Chinese characters in various stages of evaporation represent the artist’s real-life journal.
Song’s beautifully composed photos bring to mind the dangers of communication in an environment where speech is restricted, the fleeting nature of emotions and memories, and the everyday tasks that must be performed again and again. That sense of repetition also dominates the 36 larger photos in his series Stamping the Water (1996), which depict the artist immersing a huge wooden stamp, carved with the Chinese character for “water,” in a Tibetan river. While explanatory text portrays Song’s pieces as healing rituals linked to the death of his father, neither series seems cathartic. Instead, they hint at the futility of human action in the face of natural laws.
Song’s works are among the strongest in “Water Ways,” which presents works by seven Indian and Chinese artists. Though a few are cheesy, most of the photos and videos on view offer clever perspectives on the environment and humanity’s relationship to nature.
Vivan Sundaram’s Flotage videos are particularly striking. Delhi trash pickers helped the artist build a raft out of 8,000 plastic water bottles (pictured). Flotage follows the raft as it ferries passengers across the River Jamuna and then is dismantled for recycling. The sight of the raft floating down the filthy river—both useful and ethereal despite its humble origins—is unforgettable.