“Everything is art, everything is politics”. This is the motto that inspired the Chinese artist in a retrospective that has never been so extensive, at times poetic, at times supported by learned cultural nuances. All the other of a déjà-vu
A fascinating title come Ai Weiwei. In search of humanity, for an ambitious exhibition; is the vast retrospective underway in Vienna proposed by the great Chinese artist, and curated by Dieter Buchhart Elsy and Lahner Works. There are over 140 works on display, large, gigantic or small, installed on the ground or on the wall, extremely heterogeneous in materials, linked to an exorbitant theme. The works do not reproduce but re-elaborate in a compendium a good part of the artist’s historical exhibition events. Analytical works and an autobiographical experience, to accentuate in each work the focal point on the humanistic investigation.
It supports Ai Weiwei (Beijing, 1957): “My work always reflects my condition of life”. Specifying that you want to want “The philosophical understanding of who man is and what human is”. Guiding concepts aimed at processing the human condition like a phenomenological science. There is also a certain aptitude for dealing with German culture, well tested by him, given his numerous, important site-specific artistic creations in Germany and Austria, in particular Kassel and Vienna, but not only. For example, certain points of reference such as Hegel, Goethe or Wenders are not foreign to him.
TO WEIWEI. MUCH MORE THAN A RETROSPECTIVE
There doesn’t seem to be a reason that justifies the presence of a Tapis Roulant for training, installed a few dozen steps beyond the entrance to the exhibition. It appears as a ready-made for sports use, doubly inappropriate to the profile of the owner of the exhibition. But just read the card that accompanies it, make a local mind for a moment, and you feel an adrenaline rush coming! What fits you inches – and you can try to touch – is the authentic exercise machine used by Australian journalist and activist Julian Assange, to remedy the physical inactivity in the five years in which he was holed up in a room of the Ecuadorian embassy to escape the revenge of the US government for the well-known revelations. At the same time the object testifies to the illusion of running away on one’s own legs, without advancing to the point of agony, without advancing or one meter.
What else is such a state of affairs if not an endless “false movement”? Which, by coincidence, echoes the title of one of Wenders’ best films. Not for nothing, the protagonist of the plot was a namesake of the Goethian Wilhelm Meister, also he in search of his own existential reason in front of humanity.
THE LIFE OF AI WEIWEI
Who is really Ai Weiwei? Born in Beijing in 1957, a well-known visual artist, he has a forty-year career behind him during which he distinguished himself as a tenacious activist for human rights, basing a good part of his work on them. Open enemy of the Chinese government, he now lives in exile in Europe. His persecuted curriculum began as early as childhood, when his father Ai Qing, one of the best-known poet and artist of the time, critical of the Chinese political regime during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, was banished along with his entire family. thus forced to live in humble conditions in a labor camp in Xinjiang province.
In 1975, shortly before Mao’s death, Ai Qing will be rehabilitated, being able to return to Beijing. In 1978, his son Ai, in his early twenties, will enroll at the Beijing Film Academy. It is the era in which China opens the season of a new political course of a capitalist matrix, led by the Communist Party always firmly in power. A moment that marks radical economic transformations. So Ai is allowed to go to the USA, and it is in New York that he will acquire a true artistic training, attracted by the dominant trends and making art “a way of life”.
Returning to China in 1993, he has before him a changed country, prey to an unbridled economy that carries out an indiscriminate destruction of millenary traditions. Ai reacts by committing to rediscover the value and beauty of craftsmanship, endangered by the poor mass production. He begins to collect Neolithic ceramics and antique furniture, elevating them to conceptual exemplars, so he also begins to incorporate the atavistic Chinese mythologies into his production. At the same time, he edited clandestine publications favoring the emergence of an avant-garde, which means automatically putting himself against the orthodoxy of the regime. Through a blog opened in 2005, he claims freedom of expression for the Chinese people, denouncing the corruption and destruction of cultural heritage.
2011: AI WEIWEI ARRESTED OR SEQUESTRATED?
When his career has now received worldwide recognition, in 2011 Ai is ambushed by Chinese political agents, photographed by himself in the reflection of a mirror. Scene that the artist later reconstructed in a painting of great chromatic effect, made with Lego bricks; title, Lighting. In the margin, we note that, with this technique, there are other paintings on display, including a virtuoso reproduction of The Rape of the Leucippids by Peter Paul Rubens, in which Ai enjoyed replacing the sweetheart – top left – with a small panda.
The illegal arrest of the artist, as a formal accusation, was probably the cause of the deportation to a location with no news. He will be released after 81 days only thanks to an international campaign against the repressive methods of the Chinese government apparatus.
THE 81 DAYS OF AI WEIWEI’S PRISON
The scenic architecture with which the artist recounts the segregation of the “prisoner” – himself – emanates an atmosphere of the theater of the absurd, or of terror. With an impressive installation, Ai has reconstructed his isolation from the world through six dioramas, that is, three-dimensional settings on a reduced scale. Inside each one there is the same place of confinement, in which six different detention rituals are represented. SACRED is the title of the installation from the acronym of the six solemn moments performed: Dinner, Accusatori, Purificazione, Ritual, Entropy, Doubt. They are action stops, so to speak, whose figures are clones of the real characters in reduced size: the and his guardians in green uniform, always two in number, leaving permanently and absurdly on the suspect a distance below one meter, even in the hours of sleep and during other personal needs.
What is allowed to the visitor of the exhibition is to look inside the cells through a few and small glass panes set on the perimeter walls. Other jailers, of course, can monitor the environment from the outside via surveillance cameras. Instrument, which in another room Ai sarcastically “monumentalizes” in marble, connoting it as a heroic sentinel of power.
FUCK PROSPECTIVE: TO WEIWEI AND THE WEST
Destined to remain etched in the visitor’s retina, there is a composite work that benefits, among other elements, from an eye-catching sequence of luminous letters on the wall, to compose the word “Fuck yourself“. An installation undoubtedly full of bitterness. Towards who or what? It seems to understand, towards every political institution that in the course of history has elaborated ideals that have also functioned as control grids with respect to the instinct of human freedom. The plot is introduced by two mocking sculptures resting on a base, identical in shape, different in materials. They are the human profile of shoulder and arm extended forward, culminating with the closed fist with the exception of the middle finger.
The gesture is turned towards the opposite wall on which photos of symbolic buildings of the most emancipated civilizations are displayed, such as the Eiffel Tower, St. Mark’s Basilica, the White House, and even Tiananmen Square. The irreverent gesture then reappears in the foreground in each of the photographic images, but, ambiguously, as if to use it to dare proportion and depth to the monuments in the background. When in reality, the middle finger replaces the thumb, it is a mockery of the traditional technique of representation from life. Ultimately, such photos must be the cunning of being able to be read as acid criticism of the theme of the well-known Panofskyan essay, Perspective as a symbolic form.
THE ZODIAC OF AI WEIWEI
Ai Weiwei’s ethics and creativity go hand in hand in addressing the field of tension between power and individual or ethnic and social groups. Ai returns, for example, to recall his “humanitarian cry”, launched in Vienna in 2016 with the circular work F Lotus, in memory of those many migrants who miserably die by drowning in the waters of the Mediterranean. Here, he simply reconverts the original installation into a large crystal ball, transparent as water, weighing on an accumulation of worn life jackets. A compact and dramatic work, as well as poetic and airy is the construction of a large “fictitious” tree, assembled with various pieces of already dead trees, recovered in various places. Just as “his” fantastic Chinese zodiac appears full of golden vitality, visually and spiritually evoking the ancient heritage of traditions, myths and allegories of the peoples who have inhabited China for millennia.
– Franco Vereremondi