“As a person, I was born to give out my opinions. By giving out my opinions, I realize who I am. As long as I can communicate, I’m not so lonely.” – Ai Wei Wei
September and October have been highly eventful months for both fashion and art industries. I hardly have time to digest all the things I have seen within these past 7 weeks, let alone which ones to write about first! One of the highlights in terms of art exhibitions in London this year so far is probably the Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art. It is wonderful to see Ai Wei Wei being able to leave his homeland at last, and this exhibition showcases his personal struggle and his critiques as an artist in a more puritan setting than his last exhibition at Blenheim Palace. [See my earlier post Ai Wei Wei at Blenheim Palace for more detail]
In this art gallery space, all of his pieces are curated as art objects to be appreciated on their own terms rather than an intervention within a context like at Blenheim Palace, which forced each piece to interact with its surrounding. In a way, although the setting at Royal Academy of Art helps me appreciate his mastery as a contemporary Chinese artist more than before, I actually prefer his curated intervention at Blenheim Palace because it felt more personal and I could feel that his work created more impact to visitors. After all, Ai Wei Wei had always expressed his political views through his artwork, so I felt that his work was more provocative in a political setting rather than a gallery setting.
Having said that, Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art had stronger emphasis on his roots in traditional Chinese culture and highlighted the process of using salvaged materials from ruined Chinese buildings, traditional old houses, old unwanted vases to critique and represent his experiences in China in an entirely contemporary way, it was minimalism with centuries of histories imbued in the very materials he used to create each object. His piece called ‘Straight’, for example, was incredibly powerful when considering that each piece of salvaged steel from fallen buildings was straightened manually by hand to create the geological wave to represent the Earthquake in China. It was a bold gesture to mourn the victims of this tragic natural disaster.
The chosen works explore a multitude of challenging themes, based on his own experiences, commenting on creative freedom, censorship and human rights, as well as examining contemporary Chinese art and its effects on society. Each piece represented his bold vision, the torments and hardship he had to endure, which he was able to translate the pain and sorrow into exquisite, beautiful pieces of art.