The Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts has created quite the stir. Needless to say being of Chinese origins I was proud so see such a great political activist and artist exhibiting his work. Ai is one of the most recognisable and contentious artists famous for his criticism of the Chinese government.
The artist has remained committed to his artwork whilst being a political activist and he has produced a body of work that not only supports his political concerns but also gives free reign to his creativity and love of experimentation.
Over several months Ai Wei Wei pieced together trees, which were collected from the mountains in Southern China. This construction is interpreted as a way in which geographically and culturally diverse people have been brought together to form one China, in a state sponsored aim at preserving China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The first installation called Bed is part of a series, which shows China as a three-dimensional map-making the country look as if it had been layered and rolled out like a mattress. Ai has also created maps of China, in cotton, milk formula, cans and porcelain. This one is made of Aluminium and is the latest on his exploration of the subject.
In May 2008 a powerful earthquake caused extensive damage and significant loss of life in the province of southwestern China. Some twenty schools collapsed killing more than five thousand students. Despite considerable and sustained harassment from the police Ai and a number of others established a citizens investigation with the aim of recording the names of all the victims of the collapsed schools, information that was not forthcoming by the authorities.
Following the earthquake Ai Weiwei used steel reinforced bars, which were supposed to be used for recycling. He had 200 ones of this scrap metal transported to his studio in Beijing where it was painstainkingly straightened by hand and returned to its pre-construction and pre-earthquake stage.
On the 3rd April 2011 Ai was arrested at Beijing airport as he prepared to travel to Taipei. He was held in solitary confinement for 81 days. The wallpaper work Golden Age is decorated with the Twitter logo, of handcuffs and a surveillance camera referencing Ai’s interest in social media and his curtailment of personal freedoms.
Ai Weiwei has systematically engaged with ceramics. Ai is very conscious that markets are full of fakes being sold as originals and only experts can distinguish between them. The creation of forgeries interest him since the same skills and traditions used to create the originals are used to create modern vases. The question of authenticity is therefore central to his work.
The artist has everyday objects sculpted manually in marble. In choosing to use a material associated with China’s imperial past and the immortalisation of Mao Zedong, Ai has turned these household objects into monuments on a domestic scale that commemorate moments of his life as well as Chinese society.
Surveillance camera, 2012
The surveillance camera is a copy of twenty places around his studio house to monitor his every movement. The gas mask is a stark reminder of the thousands of vulnerable people who suffer serious respiratory illnesses or die every year from the polluted atmosphere of Beijing.
The bicycle sculpture which is synonymous with the mass transportation of the public workforce before cars became widely available. The chandelier’s point of reference was the grand chandelier of the vast Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square. The present work is the first, which has combined the two ideas creating a chandelier from bicycles.
Through his work we have seen that Ai Weiwei is China’s most recognised and contentious artist. His work is incredible and I would advise you all to go and see it!
Article: Eleanor Randall for We Believe in Beauty