The 27th September, 2015, was the day when I finally got the opportunity to come face to face with the art of one of China’s most notorious artists, Ai Weiwei. It was bound to be politically provocative, shamelessly lighting up the cracks in the Chinese regime as well as criticising the West for courting the country, despite its reputation for “shady business” regarding free speech and human rights. Below are a few of the surprises this trip had to offer.
The trees in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts were a part of Ai Weiwei’s exhibition as they had been been trasported from China to the UK (they are some well travelled plants)
Every piece of metal was hammered 200 times in otder to become straight. Try guessing how many
pieces there are…
Admittedly…the pieces of metal are not all the same size.
The qhite wall covered with names in the picture on the right is a harrowing representation of all the children who died in an Earth quake. Perhaps their names are printed on this long wall-panel, in black and white so that there is no space for denial.
On the left we can see disposable hand-crafted, marble crabs. Some of them were fixated on nothingness with their globular eyes. Here the emphasis is on the absurdity of having high value items treated as badly as disposable plastic toys. This piece made me question the meaning of value and whether the fact that some items are more cherished by society than others really makes them better in some way. Or is it just collective madness, which, when enforced on a grand scale becomes synonymous with normality?
These two pieces, the colourful chinese pottery on the left and the vase branded by Coca Cola reminded me of the uneasy relationship beween tradition and Americanization/ Westernization of popular culture. In China, right now a similar process is occuring to the one which took (argiuably is still taking) place in post-communist countries once their oppressive regimes collapsed. I guess the big tradegy is that an intoxication with all things considered part of the life style which had been so out of reach – from munching on McDonalds burgers to wearing jeans, listening to rock and sipping on Coca Cola, did not in temselves constitute freedom. Although, ironically, they could, if the oppressed public invests sufficient meaning in them, symbols of democracy, which sure is one hell of an unintended concequence.
Admittedly, the quality of this photo on the left is bad and I apologise, but I can’t omit it from the collection. Largely due to a swing of luck (and no photographic skill) I managed to capture the fourth image to complement Ai Weiwei’s sequence visible on the wall at the back. After “Destructive man” comes “Appreciative man”, snapping photos with his camera. Indeed, this could be extended to “Modern man”, who has become one with techonological divices, be it a camera or a phone.
This installation was also quite chilling: a marble push chair in a garden of thorn-like grass. It was loosely connected to an incident when Ai Weiwei caught a government spy taking pictures of his child and discovered that tthe official had managed to capture hours of footage featuring him and his family secretly.
The images above adorned the walls of one of the rooms of the exhibition. I thought they contained a covert critique of the West, as the compare the Twitter bird with CCTV cameras in a way exposing the absurdity of the lack of privacy in everyday life but at the same time highlighting that the two methods of exposure are not equally obtrusive.
This last sequence is very powerful. According to the artist it portrays what he had to endure while he was under arrest, with two guards by his side at all times (in the shower, while sleeping, during meals). The psychological toll that such type of treatment has is not dissimilar to torture. Overall I did enjoy the exhibition, there were a lot of elements of surprise and some discomfort, which usually means that the message of the artist has been successfully transmitted through the variety of mediums he used.
For more information and reviews you can visit the TimeOut London website.
To end on a lighter note:
My favourite item from the gift shop was probably the Paintbrush Necklace, which is basically made from a cut up old paintbrush with a wire running through it. It looks better than it sounds and its weight was perfect – not too heavy (to be the cause of a head ache) and not too light (to be easily breakable). The only thing that was a little steep was its price at £50, not for the faint hearted, but it is an awesome idea nonetheless. Here’s a visual.