Ai Weiwei in Royal Academy; Art does matter

CoBo Social Market News Reports

The Royal Academy of Arts in London presents the landmark retrospective of the artwork of the most famous Chinese contemporary artist. Ai Weiwei returns to Britain with his largest UK solo exhibition showcasing new as well as old art works that raise the bar, further establishing his reputation and label in the art world. If I had to write a few words about this show, I would highlight Ai’s act of commemoration through this show that tells the story of this Chinese artist engaged with his multifarious past and memory. The RA survey is concentrated on Ai’s work produced over the last 22 years until today. Every art piece mirrors the artist’s previous creative or activist activity as an attempt to summarize aesthetically his interest as well as his specific art techniques and forms.

Text & Images: Yannis Kostarias

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The exhibition enables the viewer to come closer with a wide range of art forms and crafts from pieces made from marble or porcelain to jade and wood whilst the artist’s engagement with the digital culture is not missing here as he is also showing a film. Wandering around this impressive exhibition, I felt that there is an evident sense of being watched. Many of the works reflect the idea of the social control. Therefore, Ai attempts to indicate how the art reacts or has to react on these issues. Being an activist and tough critic on the Chinese authorities for many years, the issues of freedom of speech have been truly raised by Ai and for this reason the artist puts two marble cameras, an artist’s video camera facing a CCTV camera in order to underline the significance of this conflict.

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There are many works here to look at; some are impressive and other less interesting; however I would like to pay attention to three works that I find fascinating. Ai’s Straight art project consists of a countless number of rusting steel rods, weighing 96 tons, which pays homage to all these victims including more than 5000 thousands of schoolchildren who died because of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. This large-scale sculpture fills almost the entire room of the gallery, and it is arranged in such a way to represent the shape of a catastrophically seismic wave. Ai collected all this material from those damaged buildings and straightened by hand in his studio in China. Given this unsettling background this impressive work takes on an additional dimension; it is a massive artwork suitable for further stimulating thought.

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The second art installation is situated in the main courtyard of the Academy titled the Tree. This notorious project is an installation of eight reassembled trees made from dead trunks that died naturally in the mountains of rural China. Ai does not miss the chance to comment on the Chinese nation underscoring the economically, geographically and culturally diverse range of his origin.
S.A.C.R.E.D is the third artwork that I would like to talk about. Ai describes through dioramas what he experienced for 81 days in the Chinese jail constantly being watched by two guards. Therefore, six large iron boxes recreate his captivity conditions through which the viewer can observe via a diorama some tiny figures representing him and the two watchers.

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Overall, I left this exhibition mainly thinking of the strong power of culture in our lives. In terms of Ai’s identity, it is still hard to distinguish between his love for making provocative art and being an activist. Ai Weiwei is one of these few remarkable artists who can embrace his artworks with social and political concerns about the current circumstances in China while trying to raise some global awareness too. No matter what you believe about him, I would argue that he successfully manages to show why art matters and this is a good reason to visit this exhibition.

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Yannis Kostarias (IG: y_cos) was born in Athens (Greece) and lives in London (UK). Graduate student at King’s College London on Arts & Cultural Management (MA) with diverse academic background in Political Sciences and Film Studies and work experience as an audio-visual expert in creative projects and scientific assistant in a European programme, as well as in managing workshops and campaigns, in freelance and corporate environments. Keen on contemporary art, film, photography and fashion.

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