Thursday, 19 September 2013

According to What?

Well, according to the Chinese government Ai Weiwei is bad news for business.  According to me, Ai Weiwei is just the kind of artist the world needs. 

I arrived at the AGO with very little knowledge of who Ai Weiwei was and no knowledge of the body of his work.  I left the AGO with an enormous amount of respect and admiration for him as an individual and as an artist. 

Multi-object sculpture showing the phases of the moon

This exhibit did a great job of showing off his craftsmanship and his passion for creation.  There are many wood sculptures displayed that were created by using old Chinese wood-working techniques that did not use screws or nails.  They are breathtakingly beautiful and puzzling all at the same time.  How does he get all of those pieces to stay together like that?  From small sculptures to giant Olympic stadiums, it's hard not to be caught up in the beauty of it all.

But then there's that mouth of his.  And that's what gets him in trouble and opens our minds and our hearts.  Much of this exhibit was influenced by the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.  Tens of thousands of people died.  Thousands of them were children studying in schools that were built with shoddy construction.  Ai Weiwei called attention to the Chinese government's neglect which resulted in all of these deaths.  When you walk into the room and see the all of those names on the wall and hear the names being spoken it's hard not to be overcome with emotion.  I'm getting goose bumps just writing about it.  It's haunting, frustrating, sad and beautiful all at the same time. 

"A name is the first and final marker of individual rights, on fixed part of the ever-changing human world.  A name is the most basic characteristic of our human rights: no matter how poor or how rich, all living people have a name, and it is endowed with good wishes, the expectant blessings of kindness and virtue."

Then your attention turns to the 38 tonnes of metal on the floor in front of you.  These rods were pulled from the wreckage and straightened before being put together for this piece.  The magnitude of strength, skill and time necessary for a piece like this is remarkable.  I can only describe it as a labour of love.  A love for the thousands of children who died and a love for his country that he is trying to improve, even through it's resistance.  

The exhibit takes you on a journey through history, personal struggle, provocation, devotion, disobedience and is a treat to look at and appreciate.  It's hard not to take the exhibit with you when you leave.  If you haven't had the opportunity to see it yet, I would highly recommend that you do. We've got it 'til the end of October: