Ai Weiwei

AI WEI WEI: ACCORDING TO WHAT? at the AGO (August 17, 2013 – October 27, 2013)

Ai Wei Wei is currently the world’s leading bad ass.

Arguably the world’s most influential contemporary artist (no doubt, the most popular), Ai Wei Wei has made a name for himself with politically charged works that bring insight into the current politics of his Chinese homeland by fusing elements of the {past} and {present} together to incite change for the {future}.

Ai WEI WEI- NamesColored_Vases_03Ai-Weiwei-Sunflowers

The seed is a household object but at the same time is a revolutionary symbol.

-Ai Wei Wei

His works go far beyond the physical art he creates with teams of talented craftsmen who use thousand-yea-old techniques to create many of his most intricate works, but also stems into the world of photography and new media using video and cell phone imagery to capture significant moments of his life and the world around him.

This god-like attention to the details of his environments have gotten him into major trouble with the government of China which have their own god-like attention to detail when it comes to censoring sensitive subject matters they would rather seen brushed under the rug and forgotten. Ai Wei Wei creates works so that we we will never forget.

He knows the importance of the truth and works like “Snake Ceiling” and “Straight” aim to bring awareness to matters the government would rather leave in the dust.

Ai-Weiwei-installation-Straight

“Straight” acts as a catalyst to remember the tragic earthquake in the Sichuan province of China which killed over 90,000 people. Wei Wei salvaged the rebar of various buildings that were destroyed in the earthquake and had teams of craftsmen painstakingly straighten each bar by hand, and used the revamped rebar to create a piece reminiscent of a series of waves (perhaps invoking the wave-like motion of the earthquake).

The piece is part of the Ai Wei Wei: According to What? exhibit which is making its North American debut in Toronto at the AGO. The piece provided curators of the exhibit a specific challenge as the sculpture was delivered in 40 crates each weighing 2,500 lbs requiring the gallery to seek critique from engineers to ensure the building’s safety during the installation. The entire installation process took 70 hours over a period of six days to complete. The challenge of the piece is a testament to Ai Wei Wei’s relentless vision that sees very little bounds.

“Snake Ceiling” is a beautiful, organic sculpture created entirely from backpacks to commemorate the more than 5,000 children who were killed in the Sichuan earthquake on May 12, 2008 due to clumsy engineering and construction of schools. While the government refused to release the number of children killed, Ai Wei Wei conducted his own citizen’s investigation into the incident to uncover the names of the children killed which were celebrated in a spoken-word performance called “Say Their Name” which was performed at the AGO on August 18, 2013 in conjunction with the “Ai Wei Wei: According the What?” exhibit which runs at the AGO from August 17 until October 27.

Censorship is saying: ‘I’m the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine.’ But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word – even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power fill collapse because of a whisper.

-Ai Wei Wei

According to What refers to a series of lithographs created by one of Ai Wei Wei’s own personal idols – Jasper Johns, and is a poignant phrase that encapsulates Ai Wei Wei’s own personal mentality to always question authority and the things people tell you are true, and to be responsible for your own life and destiny without the interference of others to tell you what to do.

One of the most powerful pieces in the exhibit is a blown up ink-jet print of a brain scan of Ai Wei Wei’s own head after being bludgeoned by police during a protest. Other pieces like beautiful marble sculptures of security cameras and hand-cuffs are also a powerful reminder of the heavy weight of authority and the permanence of the damage this authority can do on individuals.

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To the media, I have become a symbolic figure, critical of China. According to the government, I am a dangerous threat.

– Ai Wei Wei

Being a child of the People’s Revolution and seeing his own father, a poet, detained for his beliefs- Ai Wei Wei has never been a stranger to police detainment or having alternate beliefs to that which his government demands of his people, and for 80 days was detained in complete isolation with the company of two guards at all times which he has immortalized in a righteous music video called “Dumb Ass”.

He sees no fear, and this quality is very important, and is something to be looked up to in an idol. Don’t back down from your beliefs, and if you see something wrong – point it out and say it. What is the point of being afraid to be arrested or detained for doing what is right. If this is the case – the truth will be known, as is the case with Ai Wei Wei who is almost always in trouble with the Chinese government. What can they do, though? They detain him and arrest him, but in the end, they have nothing against him but the fact his beliefs are not in line with what they want him to believe. It’s an impossible cause on their part, as we, as humans, were born free. Never forget this.

Ai-Weiwei-installation-GrapesAi-Weiwei-installation-Kippe

While his politics are front and center of his work and persona, its some of his other pieces which really strike a chord with The Eye of Faith. Pieces like “Grapes”, “Kippe”, and “Divina Proportione” (after a study in geometrics by our own master and mentor, Leonardo Da Vinci) use antique furniture and pieces from dismantled Qing dynasty temples, as well as century-old woodworking techniques to create masterful sculptures that can make a man weep in its craft, care, and detail. These pieces take from the history of his culture, his past and memories, and create something new in the now that hopes to also provoke future generations to look at art and history in a revolutionary way.

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Dropping_a_Han_Dynasty_Urn_03Ai-Weiwei-installation-Colored Vases

Above all, the ultimate example of this revolutionary fusion of {past}, {present}, and {future} has to be his Colored Vases series which takes ancient Chinese vases (between 1,000 – 4,000 years old) and has them dipped into brightly colored house paint to make something completely new from the very, very old. While this technique has been seen as controversial, it’s another form of fearlessness, and a bold statement on the history of his culture, and the call for rebirth and  perhaps even rebellion.

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You can take a lot from Ai Wei Wei, and we were so lucky to get to see so many of his pieces up close and personal at the AGO. If you have the chance to see these works, please do go. While much of contemporary art can come off as superfluous and unrefined – Ai Wei Wei’s work is sophisticated both intellectually and aesthetically, and each and every piece cries out in its importance and significance in the grand scheme of art and our growing global culture.

Style isn’t always about what you wear. It’s a lot about what you do. The most important thing you can take away from it is the power to ask “According to What?”, and see the ever growing power of art and thought in our contemporary culture.

Ai Wei Wei - Jump

A nation that has no music and no fairy tales is a tragedy.

-Ai Wei Wei

Click here to visit his official site.

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 Until next time,

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