Main Galleries (19 September – 13 December 2015)
Ai Wei Wei is an artist and cultural phenomenon; he is also an example of the artist-activist.
The Royal Academy Courtyard:
On entering the courtyard of the Royal Academy, this visitor is met by Ai Wei Wei’s ‘Trees’ installation that comprise a number of trees and a sofa in the far corner.
The Exhibition (Main Galleries):
The exhibition houses a number of Ai Wei Wei’s works of art from over the years. On entering the exhibition, the installation entitled ‘Straight’ is a striking image. It is Ai Wei Wei’s poignant response to the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 where schools in the area, built and supported by steel rods became twisted and mangled as a result of the earthquake. Thousands of school children died.
Ai Wei Wei had labourers straighten by hand some of these rods that comprise this installation.
‘S.A.C.R.ED.’ appears to have been inspired by Ai Wei Wei’s time in detention. What makes these installations particularly poignant and also so intense is that the viewpoints are from spy holes: above and from the sides. A graphic recreation of Ai Wei Wei’s time in prison.
‘Fragments’ comprise pillars and beams of ‘tieli’ (Chinese ironworks) from demolished Qing dynasty temples. These beams are worked on to create a structure of poles with linked arms. When viewed from above, it becomes apparent that the anchored poles mark out the border of a map of China.
This is not the first time Ai Wei Wei has used materials of historical significance. An installation at the Tate a short while ago comprised sunflower seeds made of porcelain. These were made in the area that traditionally made porcelain during the pre-revolutionary time in China. He has also sought to recover historical objects. A Han Dynasty Urn was the subject of 3 photographs entitled ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’.
‘Surveillance Camera’ is an image that symbolises the oppression endured by Ai Wei Wei on a daily basis. At one time his passport was confiscated, in protest he placed flowers in the basket of his bicycle outside his studio complex – a peaceful and subtle protest. His complex is subject to surveillance with numerous cameras dotted around and beamed onto the complex.
Ai Wei Wei: Artist Activist:
Ai Wei Wei is undoubtedly an inspirational figure: what he stands for and the dignity of his struggles against oppression. I think his artwork is a vehicle for communicating the situation in China and the struggles against the regime.
This is a similar ‘tactic’ used by writers and artists such as Boris Pasternak in his writing of ‘Doctor Zhivago’. Lara represents Mother Russia while Zhivago the idealism of the revolution; he is contrasted with Komarovskii who, it can be argued is the reality of the Russian revolution.
It’s important to promote this exhibition and the work of Ai Wei Wei. He occupies a special place in our social conscious with the likes of Aung San Suu Kyi.
With that thought, I will close with a quote from Ai Wei Wei:
‘If my art has nothing to do with people’s pain and sorrow, what is ‘art’ for?’