All the works in this exhibition embody a potent and coherent questioning of Chinese Culture, history and material. Ai is now one of China’s most famous artists and is recognized not just for his art but also for in activism in promoting the freedom of speech and human rights. Ai has always been grounded in his own experiences and where he sits among the Chinese society. He is out spoken on social issues and this is what the public seems to enjoy.
Duchamp and his ready-made heavily influences Ai work along with several other American artists of the 1960s and 70s. His attention to detail within each piece is outstanding. Using recycled materials that have significance and a presence of history within them.
Precision carving of the woods used, perfectly straight iron rods, eerily detailed tableaux’s of his imprisonment, exquisitely carved and polished marble, to name just a few. Ai knows how to use the local skills and traditions of artisans to their full potential.
This is an exhibition that you need to take time to absorb, not just because of the sheer volumes of people there, but because each pieces has a narrative to unravel, a history that needs you to pay attention to and contemplate, and a presence about it that is actually showing us our possible future, if more isn’t done.
Among the eleven rooms given over to this exhibition is room three here we can see one of the most prominent and emotionally powerful work’s “Straight” minimal in form. The floor is covered with huge old rusty iron rebar’s, carefully arranged side by side in a wave of rolling terrain, with a split running through it. These bars were taken from the rubble of 20 schools that had been destroyed in the Sechuan earthquake of 2008 and then painstakingly knocked back into shape. This is where more than 90,000 people died in poorly built buildings. 5000 of them were children of which the Chinese government wouldn’t release details. This didn’t stop him finding out all the names, he used the power of the citizens to acquire the information. Then placed these lists of names either side of the iron bars filling both walls, this he called “Names of the student Earthquake Victims Found by the citizens Investigation”.