Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist, dissident and recent recipient of Amnesty International’s top human rights honor, opened his solo exhibition “Ai Weiwei” last weekend in Beijing, making this the first solo show he’s launched in his home country.
The exhibition is inspired by traditional Chinese themes with a just a hint of social awareness; a more subtle approach compared to his other openly political works, and the reason why he was allowed to set it up in Beijing.
At the center of the exhibit is a Ming dynasty ancestral hall that Ai and his team took apart and rebuilt. The structure is split between the two different exhibition spaces, Galleria Continua and the Tang Contemporary Art Center. Videos and photos of the process were displayed as part of the exhibition.
The hall was considered a sacred place used to host offerings and cult ceremonies for ancestors. It was originally built by a family in Jiangxi province to honor their ancestor Wang Hua, a sixth-century prince.
The project challenges the concept of “totality”. Even though visitors can choose to see the rebuilt temple in its entirety, Ai installed two screens in each space to stream live surveillance images from the other gallery, allowing viewers to experience the temple through temporal and social aspects.
Visitors walking in and around the structure become part of the project itself, an artistic expression that incorporates Ai’s interest in social behavior. Under a new social context, viewers are meant to create a new identity for the temple.
Other than the rebuilt ancestral hall, Ai’s exhibition also includes many ready-made objects such as a painted ladder, traditional lanterns, and a vast spread of sprouts broken off from antique teapots.
According to Federica Beltrame, the director of the Galleria Continua, the exhibition was supposed to open on May 30, but authorities requested for it to be pushed back a week, so it wouldn’t affect the sensitive June 4 anniversary.
The artist, who had his passport taken away by the Chinese government and is under constant surveillance, has two more solo exhibitions in Beijing coming up his month.
So how does he feel about finally attending one of his own exhibitions? “It’s surprising,” he was quoted as saying in a NY Times report. “It feels different.”
[Images via Ai Weiwei’s Instagram//Global Times]
By Sharon Choi