Song Dong Broken Mirror 1999

  • Not on view

At twelve different locations in Beijing, China—from crowded transit hubs to quiet plazas to the historic Tiananmen Square—the artist lifts a mirror to a portable video camera. The reflection extends the reach of the camera lens, offering a broader view of the settings. Using a hammer, Song swiftly smashes the pane, capturing the surprise and curiosity of passersby, who just as quickly resume their daily routines. Like the reflection in a mirror, the images of reality generated by a video camera are presumed to be accurate. Song’s interventions in Broken Mirror literally smash this impression of truthfulness, suggesting that video technology might easily be put to insidious and invasive uses.

Gallery label from Signals: How Video Transformed the World, March 5–July 8, 2023
Additional text

In Broken Mirror a hammer hovers precariously, ready to break the camera’s lens; instead, it shatters what is revealed to be a mirror. Set in various locations throughout Beijing, the work charts a path through the changing cityscape. With each action, mirror fragments reflecting one scene give way to reveal another. Everyday street views of shoppers at an open-air market, historical landmarks, or sites of protest like Tiananmen Square open onto each other in a disorienting loop of illusion and reality. The camera is more than just a recording device here: it serves as another mirror, allowing the artist to simply yet powerfully capture the contradictions of contemporary Chinese life.

Broken Mirror continues Song’s long-standing preoccupation with the idea of impermanence. In an earlier performance-based work, for example, he recorded the passing of time on pavement—writing with water, which promptly evaporated; in another, he attempted to make an imprint on the sea using a wooden stamp. In its entwinement of traditional and contemporary Beijing, Broken Mirror is similarly both poetic and political. After each act of destruction, passersby pause briefly to investigate the sound of breaking glass before returning to their daily routines.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Standard-definition video (color, sound)
3:54 min.
Committee on Media and Performance Art Funds
Object number
© 2024 Song Dong
Media and Performance

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