Ai Wei Wei


Royal Academy of Art presented Ai Wei Wei exhibition which had just ended recently. I went to this exhibition ages ago and was meant to update my blog before the show ended. Of course, I didn't. I'd been fairly busy with uni and such, but now that Christmas Break has started, you're going to be seeing a lot of new posts in your feed, whether you like it or not.

So, who is Ai Wei Wei? He doesn't physically do the art pieces by himself. It's questionable whether his work should be considered as art because a lot of them have some kind of political statements he wants to claim to the public and most importantly, the Chinese government. Let's say, Ai Wei Wei uses art as a medium to express his messages to a broader audience than just to his hometown population.

The exhibition was unexpectedly crowded. People were lining up outside of the academy to buy tickets. Even in the gallery, there were little room to walk through, so it was impossible to capture the pieces without including strangers' legs or heads. However, the number of spectacles didn't stop the communication between the work and myself. The pieces were made to inform what's been happening inside China through the perspective of the artist.

Ai Wei Wei used hardwood tieli, which commonly known to be used in framing building and furniture. In 1993, he purchased these woods from a temple since Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that was recently dismantled due to rapid development of cities. The piece is China in three-dimensional map that has been flattened out on a floor.  

Table with Two Legs on the Wall, 1997

Ai Wei Wei has obviously brought the forgotten objects into attention by changing the perspective of how the public would view them. For example, these traditional furnitures from Qing Dynasty are no longer desirable objects to a lot pf people. By obstructing the practical purpose of these objects and transforming them into something modern and aesthetically appealing, Ai Wei Wei has created art that people are able to enjoy and see the value in these neglected Chinese furnitures.

Straight (2008-12)
On May 12th, 2008, a powerful earthquake strutted Sichuan province in China. About 20 schools collapsed causing more than 5,000 casualties of Chinese students. Ai Wei Wei had this installation built as a memorial to the students who had died and also to the families' lost. Occupying the big gallery space, on the floor lies thousands and thousands of steel bars in different sizes in the wave manner. The steels were purchased by the artist from the remaining structure of the collapsed schools as a sentimental material. He is making a statement that these children should not be forgotten despite Chinese government's intention to forbid further information about this incident due to its initial fault in poor construction. 

Surrounding the steel installation up on the walls, are the lists of children who had died. Their gender and date of birth are also included. It was quite sentimental when I was looking through the names and imagine how hard it would be for the parents to lose their child in such a young age due to somebody's carelessness. At the same time, the lists fascinated me of how little our lives could mean to other people when there are so many names up on the wall and not every name would be read through by the spectacles.

This is a question Ai Wei Wei has raised about the authenticity of an object. He has been purchasing pottery from Qing Dynasty, which is known to be antique and expensive. Fakes are abundant in the market, while the sellers claim that they are real. By applying paint on the originals, the artist is making a statement, then what is the value of the original vast when they are tainted? Can they still be considered a high value historic vessels or are they just a tool for contemporary art? 

It's undeniable the perspective that Ai Wei Wei has represented to us is very unique and made us think what matters and what not. He touches upon a taboo subject regarding domestic political aspect. These subjects have reminded us that it's important to look out and beyond of our own niche to function in this fast forward modern society. 

Photo of me by Sei Saito

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