By Lori Bosworth
He’s been censored, jailed, had his blog shut down and his passport revoked, but Chinese artist and activist Ai WeiWei has a passion to continue fighting for the common man. The artist’s exhibit, Ai WeiWei: According to What?, opens at the Art Gallery of Ontario on August 17, 2013 on its first major North American survey of his work. Torontonians have embraced Ai WeiWei’s zodiac installation at Nathan Phillips Square, which arrived in June 2013, as a precursor for the exhibit. We’ll also see a new installation of WeiWei’s Forever Bicycles at Nuit Blanche 2013 at Nathan Phillips Square.
Ai WeiWei was born to poet Ai Qing, an intellectual sent to a labour camp by the Anti-Rightist Movement when his son was only one. Ai WeiWei attended the Beijing Film Academy before going to New York City in 1981 and stayed until 1993, becoming influenced by Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. WeiWei’s works range from photography to sculpture to filmmaking and throughout these media, WeiWei expresses the idea that it is important to understand both Western and Eastern cultures. His work also raises questions about what needs to be protected and what needs to be demolished.
These teahouses, reflecting the centre of Chinese culture, are made of Pu’er tea and weigh more than one tonne each.
Ai WeiWei was the artistic consultant of the Bird’s Nest at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but distanced himself from the project due to his displeasure at the Chinese government forcing migrants out of the city and presenting a false image of the country’s progress. These photos document the construction of the Bird’s Nest.
Deeply upset by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the inadequate construction of many schools which collapsed during the catastrophe, WeiWei took a series of photographs including this one which shows the backpacks of children who died in the earthquake. WeiWei felt the Chinese government ignored the impacts of the earthquake, instead wanting to move forward.
Ai WeiWei was so dissatisfied with the Chinese government’s response to the earthquake that he created a documentary, as well as the installation, Straight, which is made of 38 tonnes of steel rebar collected from the site where more than 70,000 people were killed. The art installation is a memorial to the children who died in the earthquake.
Demonstrating influence from Andy Warhol, the Coca-Cola Vase combines old artistry with a vase from the Han Dynasty with new corporate branding for an East meets West piece or the commodification of art.
Ai WeiWei created the Moon Chest from seven chests made of huali wood. He carved four circles in each chest and placed them in a row so that you can see each phase of the moon when looking through the holes.
The stunning Kippe installation is a collection of iron wood and gymnastic parallel bars from Qing Dynasty temples.
The Ai WeiWei exhibition contains more than 7,000 digital images taken by Ai WeiWei of his daily life including his time spent in New York City. Ai WeiWei has uploaded controversial images to his Twitter account including the one below:
Ai WeiWei took similar photos of himself giving the finger to the Eiffel Tower and Tiananmen Square.
Ai WeiWei: According to What? is a bold exhibition of the works of a truly original and passionate man intent on bridging the gap between Eastern and Western cultures. The exhibit is at the Art Gallery of Ontario at 317 Dundas Street West (at McCaul Street) from August 17, 2013 to October 27, 2013. Tickets may be purchased online.