On a visit to London to spend time with my brother, I was lucky to see the Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei at The Royal Academy of Arts on its last weekend show. I did not previously know much about him or his work, but the personal pieces in the show gave me a good insight into his life and experiences. Thankfully there were free audio readings of most of the artwork to explain in great detail their motive, process and intentions which would otherwise be difficult to deduce.
Unfortunately I was not able to do any drawings whilst in the exhibition due to the large number of people in each room, but I was however able to take some photographs of my favourite pieces.
This [below video] piece ‘Fragments’ was really interesting, though annoyingly I wasn’t aware of it for my last project, as it is a map of China when seen from above with chairs and other furniture to represent landmarks and significant places in the country, such as Tibet. The freedom to walk in and around the sculpture is a metaphor for the ability Weiwei finally has to freely travel after years of the Chinese State detained his passport.
This postcard is a smaller version of a large trio of photographs which took up the entire wall, which depict Weiwei smashing Chinese historical artifacts in a defiant manner, making a very powerful image. It is speculated whether the vases in the photographs and remains in the filled jars really are authentic relics, which I believe is part of the intention of the piece.
The exhibit I was most personally moved by was the [below] installation ‘Straight’ – ‘the heaviest sculpture ever shown at the Royal Academy’¹ – was made as a response to the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. It’s difficult to gage the sheer scale of the undulating structure in photographs alone; salvaged steel bars from the ruins of the disaster were straightened and arranged in a shape that looks like an earthquake tremor polygraph.
The list of names that runs around the room gives recognition of the hundreds of children who were killed during the quake, whose identities were withheld from the public.
Below are more photographs from various smaller pieces in the gallery, including a cubic metre of tea, repurposed furniture and taboo wallpaper!
¹RAC (2012) Ai Weiwei | exhibition | royal academy of arts. Available at: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/ai-weiwei