Ai Weiwei @ RA


The long awaited Ai Weiwei exhibition. If you know me, you would know that I have been doting on Ai Weiwei's art, political and humanitarian work. (Check out my visit to the Blenheim Palace) This exhibition has given me mixed feelings.

(I forgot to note down the titles to each piece, apologies)

This work is what a map of China would look like if it was 'rolled out'. Materials used: wood from dismantled temples.

Material is a crucial part of AWW's work. This piece was also made using rubbles from dismantled temples. I feel that such upcycling plays an important role in establishing AWW's intentions: despite his critiques of the Chinese government, AWW is undoubtedly a very patriotic man who fights to protect (his interpretation of) the national identity, through reinforcing moral values and preserving culture.

The following 'sculptures' intend to reflect the idea of 'uselessness'. I don't remember what the audioguide had to say about that, but it seems that AWW hired skilled craftsmen to assemble the pieces in a 'natural' way, as if the piece was originally like that.

I don't know what to think: maybe he wanted to ridicule the negligence towards culture. It took such a drastic alteration to capture the Chinese public's attention and to (re)gain respect towards these now 'useless' artefacts.

( I take it back - I have sneakily recorded the titles...)

This is an installation of straight iron rods and the columns of names of children who died during the Sichuan earthquake. The iron rods, bent and shaped for construction, were taken from the debris of the aftermath and forcefully hammered back by a team of laborers into its 'original' straight line. This piece strikes me both as a Chinese and non-Chinese viewer. The themes of 'oppression' and 'disclosure' echos throughout AWW's installation, but it is particularly evident in this display.

I really like the subtlety of AWW's work. But it also makes me question whether it is 'suitable' for a universal audience.

The labels and introductions give basic context to each installation and to AWW's social standing. But even as a 'part-Chinese' viewer, I feel that I am not able to fully appreciate this work due to my lack of understanding/awareness of what is being obmitted by the artist. Is this what Julian Stallabrass means in 'A Short Introduction to Contemporary Art' by professional artists producing 'a distinct and certifiable knowledge, in a theoretical and esoteric language, guaranteeing the exclusivity and status of the art profession'?

I am just wondering, how partial is the work of an artist and activist like AWW? Stallabrass also enlightened me with the idea that Eastern and Western art aways depict a negative image of the other. While this antagonism is slowly fading, will it be possible to depict the Eastern social and political without bias? How complete is any work produced? How reliable?

'He Xie' - a play on sounds between 'River-Crab' and 'Harmony'.

Ancient Chinese urns that have been painted over.

Ancient urns that have been pulverised and stored in jars.

A marble video recorder that AWW used to film his interaction with the local authorities.

The CCTV camera installed by the authorities to film AWW.

The guide mentioned that AWW made this in response of the stalkerish behaviour of the authorities, who tracked the artist's every move, even a stroll in the park with his child.

This room had six dioramas that showed aspects of AWW's 80 days in prison.

Each diorama was contained within a brown metal box with little doors, windows and holes through which the visitors could peek through. I thought that this was very clever, because it made each peeping visitor play the role of a secret watchful intruder into Ai's life. Again, I wonder on which side of the river we stand on.

Finally... I end with this precious selfie with the mastermind himself. I managed to catch him outside the RA days before the opening of the exhibition.

That's his signature, if you were ever wondering.

#london #contemporary #reflection

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