The mangled and twisted steel remains of the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, are to be a key installation at a UK retrospective of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The work will consist of approximately 90 tonnes of steel reinforcing bars, dragged from the rubble of the 2008 disaster.
The rods have all been painstakingly straightened by hand and then shipped from China in advance of the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition in London this September.
“It is I think the heaviest work we’ve ever put in our galleries here,” said co-curator Adrian Locke. “Aside from the technical challenge, it is a very sombre and sobering work when you see it, it has this kind of power and silence about it … it bears a real sense of loss of life.”
Ai Weiwei will exhibit the work ‘Straight’ (2008-12) as part of the artist’s first major survey in the UK.
Ai Weiwei, Straight,150 tonnes of recovered steel rebar, is arranged to create a sombre rolling landscape. Photo courtesy of Art Gallery of Ontario.
The work was made in response to the large number of children who died as a result of shoddy construction following the earthquake, the Royal Academy’s floor, however, is only able to hold 90 tons of it.
“We think he is one of the most important artists in the world and the fact that he’s never had a major institutional show in Britain is important. The main point of doing this show is to let the British public and beyond see his work and make judgments for themselves.” said RA artistic director, Tim Marlow, who is co-curator.
The dissident artist – who is not allowed to leave China – was made an honorary Royal Academician during his detention and the RA show follows major shows it has staged for the artists Anish Kapoor, David Hockney and Anselm Kiefer. The exhibition will feature work Ai has been making since 1993, after the artist returned to China from many years living and working in the US.