As a boy, Ai Weiwei lived his first artistic expression, burning the books of his house with his father, Ai Qing, a revolutionary poet, censored and persecuted, to avoid punishments by the police of the Cultural Revolution. Recognized for documenting and reflecting on the political and social arbitrariness of the Western Word as well as his own country of origin, his artistic practice is developed around freedom of expression, human rights and economic & environmental exploitation.
By Efi Micchalarou
Photo: Fundación Proa Archive
In “Inoculation”, his first solo exhibition at South America, Ai Weiwei reflects from the personal biography and gives visibility to different social problems that mark the political inconsistencies and gaps between the individual subject and the collective subject in the contemporary world. The artist plays between the old and the current, the past, the present and the future, always denouncing from a critical perspective an ambivalent relationship with his country divided by a deep sense of identity derived from the use of materials, images and traditional techniques of Chinese culture. The exhibition gathers monumental installations, objects, photographs and videos with strong political and symbolic impact, which provide a broad panorama of his most iconic work and display the prolific and intense career of the artist. The exhibition occupies the entire architecture of Proa, which includes the sidewalk, the exhibition rooms, staircases the bookstore and the café, revealing his articulation between architecture and art. In the monumental work “Forever Bicycles”, made with 1254 bicycles and exhibited in the path of Proa, the artist recontextualizes and dismantles an everyday Chinese object. The bicycles that now turned into a gigantic structure of steel, light and shadow is a comment in the metamorphosis of China and the permanent changes of its culture. The first room is watched over by “Surveillance Camera with Plinth” (2015), an oversized CCTV camera in one corner, and also by Ai Weiwei’s arrest photo from 2009, a huge selfie of Ai Weiwei in a mirrored lift stood between a security officer and a man in a hat. His fascination with Chinese materials, such as Huali wood, can for instance be seen in the “Moon Chests”, 3 metre high chests made with an antique technique, which does not show any joining materials, turn into a landscape of the different phases of the moon when looking through the holes made into the chests. One case holds a map of China; another holds two pairs of handcuffs, one pair carved of a wood which seems to match that of the case which contains it; a third case holds bone-fragments like an archaeological display; and the fourth case contains sculptural objects which resemble a range of sex toys. Another work is the new version of “Dropping to Han Dynasty Urn” (2016) where three portraits in sequence form, made in legos, show Wei Wei throwing to the ground an urn. The Lego company did not allow him to purchase the product to do his work, so all he got was through donations from anonymous people. Although for the great majority the theme can be understood as an offensive act, on the other hand there is a second connotation and is that Mao Tse Tung encouraged the destruction of the past. Therefore, contrary to what we might assume, is denouncing those actions of vandalism that sought to go against the tradition and the past of their country. In “Sunflowers”, the artists employed 1,600 women from the city of Jingdezhen to produce one hundred million ceramic sunflower seeds, which represent the silent woman in Chinese society. They are also a metaphor for that country, as creator of artificial replicas of natural elements. On the other hand, the action it generated created a paradigm shift in the town, allowing women to take a leading role and have the opportunity to become an income generator, achieving social change through art. Alongside his first exhibition in South America, his film “Human Flow” opened worldwide. In this film, he shows streams of people forced to flee their homelands because oppressive regimes care more for power than human life and dignity. He uses powerful imagery, demonstrating that the scale of this crisis is beyond imagination, while simultaneously reminding us that it deals with human beings.
Info: Curator: Marcello Dantas, Fundación Proa, Av. Pedro de Mendoza 1929, Buenos Aires, Duration: 25/11/17-25/2/18, Days & Hours: Tue-Sun 11:00-19:00, www.proa.org