Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ai Weiwei at the Hirshhorn

Ai Weiwei is an interesting and very political Chinese contemporary artist.  He is currently unable to leave China but his work is traveling for him. His work combines art with activism and dialogue as his public and vocal persona acts as a catalyst for dialogue as much as his art.  Here is is pictured in the debris of his newly built Shanghai studio after it was demolished by the government in 2010.

He assisted in the design of the Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics is 2008.  He is pictured  below with his installation, Sunflower Seeds,  at the Tate Modern in London.  These are millions of hand painted porcelain sunflower seeds that visitors would walk on in the large hall.  He commissioned Chinese craft workers to make these seeds individually.  This work draws attention to the insignificant work of things we take for granted and the interplay between labor, craft and value.  The manufactured, stacked and prepared items are often handled by faceless human beings who remain anonymous but for their residue of labor.  The craftsmanship in each small seed from a distance is unnoticeable, yet makes them indistinguishable from the real thing.  For the first 48 hours of the installation visitors could walk on the seeds, but the dust created a hazard and it had to ultimately be roped off.

He also works with images of Chinese relics and history, especially ceramics, violating precious vessels that represent cultural history. This Chinese neolithic vessel is overwritten with the image of commerce and is overpowered by the bright and catching logo of monetization. These works are provocative and ask questions about the role of objects in cultural history and how we determine our 'values'.  His works use material in a conceptual and cultural context.  They are not about skill, craft of dexterity unless those qualities are part of the critique of the work itself.

Here is a link to the New York Times review of his exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC.

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