SO yesterday I finally made it to the greatly anticipated LIBERO (libero is Italian for free) exhibition by the Chinese contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Well, it did NOT disappoint. ALSO a fab perk was that tickets were just €4 (instead of €9) with my British Institute student card- YES the exhibition is not free despite it’s name…
As Libero sadly finishes today, I’m going to use this post to reflect on my favourite works and their significance. For me, the meaning behind the art is ALWAYS more important than its aesthetic quality, which is why I find Ai Weiwei’s work SO captivating.
Cited as the world’s most influential artist, Ai Weiwei has become symbolic in the Chinese and somewhat global struggle against censorship and Governmental control. This exhibition allowed you to explore the artist’s personal, intimate relationship with his native country and his rebellious nature that feeds the creation of his extraordinary art.
SO Forever was definitely one of the most striking works in the display; the whole piece consisted of over 1000 bicycles! The obvious message of this installation is a criticism of the air pollution rife in Beijing. The piece serves as a reminder of the NEGATIVE impact of our forever advancing society; we keep charging forward, in terms of development, with disregard of the consequences for the natural world. The Forever branded bikes were formally a much desired status symbol in Beijing which have now been replaced with Mercedes and Rolls Royce luxury cars. Weiwei asks us to consider the effects of our NOW more destructive desires. NB together we can save the planet rather than destroy it!!
THESE are two works from the simply titled Wood room of the exhibition. The different woodwork pieced are all UNIQUE and handcrafted without nails or adhesives by specially trained Chinese craftsmen. These stools have now become an antique in China, whereas they used to be an everyday object that everyone owned. Through these crafts, Weiwei represents the (extremely fast) modernisation of China and how the skilled craftsmanship and the beautiful and unique pieces of furniture themselves have been REPLACED in favour of factories producing furniture clones from much more harmful materials such as plastic.
BUT my favourite part of this room was the wallpaper-designed by Weiwei- that at first glance appeared to be a traditional, baroque style print. However, after closer study you’ll notice that the pattern is made up of objects like CCTV cameras and handcuffs, all to symbolise the pressing censorship in China AND the artist’s own arrest, where he was imprisoned for 81 days in a secret location for his activism.
The strozzina or basement of the gallery was mainly dedicated to Weiwei’s photography. One room showcased the Leg Gun movement that the artist sparked on instagram back in 2014. Ai Weiwei started this campaign when he posted a photo on instagram (which unlike Facebook and Twitter is NOT banned in China) using his leg as a gun, with the caption Beijing Anti-Terrorism Series. Within 6 DAYS of publishing, Weiwei’s picture had 10,000 responses of fans doing the same pose. In an interview, the artist explained the post as an emblem of the POWER the Government have and abuse in the name of counter-terrorism. Power is being used in the name of protecting you, Ai commented in the interview, But what the authorities are actually doing is something which deserves a lot of discussion.
DON’T you worry, I haven’t forgotten about today’s idiom:
è tutta farina del mio sacco (it’s all flour from my sack) used to tell someone it’s your original work or idea- very relevant for the innovative work of Ai Weiwei
SO if you’ve enjoyed today’s content check out some more of my snaps below and DEFO look out for any Ai Weiwei exhibits coming to a gallery near you!
Peace n Love