Monday 11 January 2016

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy, London

For those of you who missed Ai Weiwei at the RA in London ...
Tree - Ai Weiwei 

In "Tree", sections of dead trees from Southern China are pieced together to make eight artificially constructed trees - a comment on the geographically & culturally diverse peoples brought together to form the state sponsored "One China" to protect China's soverignty.

Grapes - Ai Weiwei

The work "Grapes" is made from 27 Qing Dynasty stools, becoming "a useless object" but still appealling.

Straight - Ai Weiwei
Straight (detail) - Ai Weiwei

On the 12 May 2008 a severe earthquake hit the province of Sichuan in China.  Twenty schools collapsed and 5000+ students lost their lives.  Ai Weiwei and his team set about recording the names of all of those who had died - something the authorities were not willing to reveal.  The schools collapsed as a result of the being badly built.  This was attributed to corrupt local officials sanctioning the use of substandard building materials for personal gain.  After the earthquake Ai Weiwei collected 200 tonnes of the twisted rebar (the steel reinforcing rods from the concrete structures) and had them straightened to their original form at his studio to make "Straight," a memorial and reminder of what had happened and why.
Straight (detail) - Ai Weiwei
Names of all the victims of the schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake
Bicycle Chandelier - Ai Weiwei
Bicycle Chandelier (detail) - Ai Weiwei

The Bicycle Chandelier brings together two elements seen in Ai Weiwei's work - light and bicycles.

Ton of Tea - Ai Weiwei
Ton of Tea (surface detail) - Ai Weiwei

"Ton of Tea" is one of the cubic metre series - objects of the same size but with different properties and textures but each with a Chinese identity.

Free Speech Puzzle - Ai Weiwei

The hand painted porcelain pieces above bearing the slogan "free speech" in Qing Dynasty imperial style form a map of China and highlight the lack of freedom of speech in China.

Fragments - Ai Weiwei

"Fragments" is constructed using architectural salvage from temples and furniture from the Ming & Qing Dynasties. The assemblage forms a map of China and Taiwan when seen from above and its skeletal structure hints at the fragility of the "One China" policy.  The ability of the visitor to walk through the stucture reflects the freedom tourists have to move through China in a way that Chinese citizens do not.
Cao - Ai Weiwei

Cao (detail) - Ai Weiwei

"Cao" is a marble scupture of a pushchair and grass.  It is made from marble from the same quarry as that used in the Forbidden City and Mao's Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square which gives the work a "monumental" quality while still being domestic in scale. Cao means grass but is also used as a swear word.

Only a small section of the exhibition is illustrated here.  It was really interesting and thought provoking - hope you've enjoyed the whistle-stop tour. 

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