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Ai Weiwei

Translocation – Transformation

AI WEIWEI’S WORK IS AN EXPRESSION OF HIS CRITICAL DEALINGS WITH THE HISTORY, CULTURE AND POLITICS OF HIS HOME COUNTRY, AND IS REFLECTED IN HIS OWN BIOGRAPHY IN A MORE OR LESS SUBTLE WAY.

The mul­ti-laye­red com­bi­na­ti­on of histo­ry and the pre­sent incre­a­se the fasci­na­ti­on that emana­tes from the monu­men­tal Instal­la­ti­on Cir­cle of Ani­mals / Zodiac Heads, which the artist has set up at the lar­ge water reser­voir on the sou­thern side of the Bel­ve­de­re. With the twel­ve bron­ze heads that repre­sent the zodiac signs of the Chi­ne­se horo­scope, the artist reacts to the dest­ruc­tion of a water-clock foun­tain built around 1749 in front of the Palace of the Calm Sea in Yuan­min­gyu­an, the impe­ri­al sum­mer retre­at in Bei­jing, by French and Bri­tish tro­ops in 1860. The act of wan­ton dest­ruc­tion and loo­ting signi­fied a deep humi­lia­ti­on for the Chi­ne­se peop­le, and mar­ked the end of the Second Opi­um War, the import of opi­um for­ced by mili­ta­ry might in order to assert colo­ni­al eco­no­mic inte­rests. Bet­ween 2000 and 2007 Chi­na was able to acqui­re five of the sto­len ani­mal heads (ori­gi­nal­ly the bodies were also for­med). In 2009 two more ani­mals (the rab­bit and rat) from the Yves Saint Lau­rent collec­tion were offe­red by auc­tion. All efforts by the Chi­ne­se government to bring both bron­ze figu­res back to Chi­na fai­led. Even­tual­ly the French art patron Fran­çois-Hen­ri Pin­ault dona­ted both the­se bron­ze heads to Chi­na in 2013. The five remai­ning heads are still mis­sing to this day. Ai Wei­wei reac­ted to cul­tu­ral­po­li­ti­cal events with a new crea­ti­on of the seri­es. The bron­ze figu­res are not per­fect copies, rather an artis­tic inter­pre­ta­ti­on and thus not only phy­si­cal­ly, but also con­cep­tual­ly a pro­duct of the 21st cen­tu­ry.

All is Art – all is Poli­cy

Just as the Second Opi­um War that was pro­vo­ked 160 years ago pre­pa­red the end of the Chi­ne­se empi­re, so the Chi­ne­se Land Reform and the Chi­ne­se Cul­tu­ral Revo­lu­ti­on, initia­ted by Mao Zedong in 1966 and ended in 1976 fol­lowing his death, signi­fied ano­t­her momen­tous cul­tu­ral shift. In order to decisi­ve­ly move towards ide­al socia­lism, the who­le of Socie­ty and the Par­ty were to be rene­wed in pro­le­ta­ri­an terms. The mill­en­nia-old Chi­ne­se cul­tu­re based on the tea­chings of Lao­zi, Bud­dha and Con­fu­ci­us and others was vir­tual­ly wiped out by poli­ti­cal for­ce. The dra­co­ni­an mea­su­res were aimed at Basic tra­di­tio­nal values and led to der­a­ci­na­ti­on, expul­si­on, the dest­ruc­tion of fami­ly tra­di­ti­ons, the eli­mi­na­ti­on of pro­per­ty, and in the worst case to Anni­hi­la­ti­on.

Expul­si­on, migra­ti­on and a cho­sen Chan­ge in one’s loca­ti­on as trig­gers of trans­for­ma­ti­ve pro­ces­ses in peop­le and objects is a recur­rent the­me run­ning through Ai Weiwei’s life and work. This is true for his youth as much as for his time as an Artist in the USA, for the pha­se after his return to Chi­na, and for his migra­ti­on to Ber­lin. For every trans­lo­ca­ti­on car­ri­ed out, a pro­cess of relo­ca­ti­on fol­lows. This goes hand-inhand with inner migra­ti­on and the Chan­ge of iden­ti­ty. Des­pi­te or pre­cise­ly becau­se of his noma­dic exis­tence, Ai Wei­wei is a social being, a zoon poli­ti­kon, and as such can­not be thought of abs­tract­ly sepa­ra­ted from his fel­low-bein­gs, from socie­ty, Tra­di­ti­on
and cul­tu­re.

Thus it came natu­ral­ly to Ai Wei­wei to react to the refu­gee cri­sis with a com­ple­te­ly new work. For this, the artist had 201 rings made, each from five life-jackets, into lotus blossoms, and instal­led them in the Pond on the sou­thern side of the Bel­ve­de­re in the form of a cal­li­gra­phic F. The refu­gees’ life-jackets point to the uncer­tain fate of peop­le in need; the lotus blossom sym­bo­li­zes puri­ty and lon­ge­vi­ty in Chi­na; and the F is a recur­rent motif in Ai Weiwei’s work, to be unders­tood as pro­vo­ca­ti­ve.

Ai Weiwei’s inte­rest in the histo­ry of the 21er Haus should be seen in the con­text of his per­ma­nent enga­ge­ment with trans­for­ma­ti­ve pro­ces­ses. Ori­gi­nal­ly built as an imper­ma­nent natio­nal pavi­li­on for the Brussels World Fair of 1958, it was initi­al­ly to be scrap­ped; howe­ver, it was then relo­ca­ted to Vien­na and adap­ted as a muse­um for con­tem­pora­ry art. The par­al­lels to the histo­ry of an ances­tral hall from the Ming Dynas­ty were decisi­ve in Ai Weiwei’s selec­tion of the main work for the exhi­bi­ti­on in the 21er Haus. During the Ming Dynas­ty, the hall had an important func­tion to ful­fil wit­hin the fami­ly. In the pre­sent case it con­cerns the ances­tral spi­rits’ house of the first sett­lers of a vil­la­ge in the sou­thern pro­vin­ce of Jian­gxi. The Wang fami­ly was among the most important tea mer­chants in the regi­on and main­tai­ned their ances­tors’ house until the Chi­ne­se Land Reform. The fami­ly was banis­hed, and so the ances­tral hall lost its func­tion. Over the deca­des the once so power­ful and important buil­ding tur­ned into a ruin threa­tened by col­lap­se.

Ai Wei­wei acqui­red the hall, which in the mean­while had been remo­ved, dis­lo­ca­ted it once again, and by put­ting it on dis­play, con­fer­red upon it a new cul­tu­ral task. The­re can hard­ly be a bet­ter examp­le to under­line the con­se­quen­ces of the ever-pre­sent Chi­ne­se Cul­tu­ral Revo­lu­ti­on, deca­des after Mao’s death.

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Dr. Alfred Weidinger ist ein österreichischer Kunsthistoriker, Museumsmanager und Fotograf. Weidinger studierte von 1985 bis 1998 Kunstgeschichte und Klassische Archäologie an der Universität Salzburg. 2000 wurde er Vizedirektor und Prokurist der Albertina. Mit der Übernahme der Leitung des Belvedere in Wien 2007 durch Agnes Husslein wurde Weidinger Vizedirektor und Prokurist des Museums Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. In der Funktion des Kurators für die Kunst der Moderne ist er zudem für die Organisation von bedeutenden Ausstellun-gen im In- und Ausland verantwortlich. Seine Forschungsschwerpunkte sind bilden-de und angewandte Kunst sowie Fotografie des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts. Seit 1980 bereist er als freier Dokumentarfotograf Afrika und nimmt Porträtserien auf. Er fotografiert sowohl digital als auch mit Film, bevorzugt dabei Schwarz/Weiß.

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