Thought-provoking content challenges China’s intellectual dilemma
A solo exhibition of the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei opened at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum on Saturday. This is the start of a long run for the show which ends in January. Aptly titled, “Ai Weiwei Absent,” the exhibition highlights the predicament that Mr Ai must live with daily, most notably the free travel restraints put on him by the Chinese government. The exhibition features over 20 of Ai’s works, including photographs, installation pieces, videos, and a new piece consisting of more than 1,000 bicycles expressing China’s social changes. Works shown cover Ai’s career from 1983 and including marble sculpture, ceramics, woodwork, multimedia pieces, videos and 100’s of photographs produced by the artist in New York’s East Village and Beijing’s East Village.
China has gone through very little political liberalisation in the last decades, while Taiwan has become quite democratic, ignoring many of the censorship restrictions that exist in mainland China. It was reported in the Chinese press that the response of local viewers seemed to be reserved. As well, as many of them declining to express their views about the Chinese dissident, although some were willing to talk about the meanings behind the art. “I can kind of relate to how dissatisfied Ai is with his society,” said art enthusiast Liao Wei-chi, referring to Ai’s work “Study of Perspective: Tiananmen Square.” In the work, Ai holds up the middle finger of his left hand, “giving the finger” to a distant Tiananmen Square building that represents China’s centralized power. Still, Liao said he came to the exhibition to learn about Ai’s art instead of as a show of support. “I like the way he chooses marble as a material,” the 24-year-old said. “It is rich in both texture and connotation.” “I am not sure if I should comment on Ai Weiwei as a human rights activist,” said another visitor who wished to be identified by her surname Huang. “I don’t know much about him.” Still, some foreign visitors showed recognition of Ai’s status as both an artist and an activist. Ai Weiwei was arrested in April and released in late June after he was taken from the Beijing airport and held in two secret locations. He is being investigated for tax evasion.
Through his work Ai addresses issues pertinent to contemporary China; notably the loss of historic material culture due to rapid modernization and the effects of the global economy on traditional modes of production. His work also engages with broader themes, including perceptions of value, mass production and brand globalization, such as Coca Cola. Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing, China, where he lives and works. Solo exhibitions include Stiftung DKM, Duisburg (2010); Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland (2010); Arcadia University Gallery, Glenside (2010); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2009); Three Shadows Photography Art Center, Beijing (2009); Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Cambelltown Arts Center, Sydney (2008); Groninger Museum, Groningen (2008). Group exhibitions include the São Paulo Biennial (2010); Biennale Architecture, Venice (2008); Documenta 12, Kassel (2007) and Tate Liverpool (2007).Widely considered to be one of the most significant cultural figures of his generation in China and internationally, Ai Weiwei successfully occupies multiple roles as a conceptual artist, architect, curator, designer, film-maker, publisher and activist. Using a variety of formal languages with both traditional and innovative methods of production, Ai links the past with the present and explores the geopolitical, economic and cultural realities affecting the world with humour and compassion. Photo: © ArtLyst 2011