Ai Weiwei enters Paris – FINISHED!!

Reviewed on 02/21/2012 | No Reviews

Photo: © Ai Weiwei

He’s definitely one of the most prominent and also provocative artists of China. But since Ai Weiwei was taken into Chinese custody as he tried to board a plane for Hong Kong last April, he became a world renown personality. Today, the Jeu de Paume museum opens the first major exhibition in France showing photographs and videos of the Chinese dissident and artist.

Is it art what’s he doing or is political action? This is the question here. Once you’ve seen the show called Interlacing you’ll probably think: it might be both of it. It’s art, but art that is supposed to change things. Ai Weiwei is a conceptual, socially critical artist who doesn’t want to create memorable oeuvres, but social friction and a bit of thinking.

The communicator

The exhibition at the Jeu de Paume therefore emphasises Ai Weiwei as a communicator: somebody who’s constantly communicating via many channels, for a long time via his blog, no via Twitter about every day life in China. Photography, very naturally, became one of his modes of expression. During his years in New York (from 19883 until 1993) he shot thousands of thousands of photos, which he only developed once back in China. Even if they show very dark sides of urban life, this is probably the least exciting part of the exhibition.

Ai Weiwei: “Dropping a Hun Dynasty Urn” 1995

Much more interesting are those photos dedicated to the destruction and relocation of entire villages in China. Provisional Landscapes is the title of this part of the exhibit, showing the destruction of centuries of history and cultural heritage and the glorification of obsolete idea of progress.

Fairytale or nightmare?

Fascinating too, are the Fairytale Portraits showing photos of people, who where part of his Documenta project in 2007. Invited to the German Documenta, Weiwei wanted to bring 1001 Chinese citizens to Kassel as a kind of “living installation”. He recruited workers, farmers, ethnic minorities, police officers, prison warders, students, teachers, and artists. Each person was photographed in China near the different embassies where they were interviewed prior to getting their visas. As obtaining a passport – let alone a visa – is extremely difficult, the portraits show the anxiety and hope of each individual. Their fairytale in reality was a nightmare.

Besides his Blog Photographs from 2005 until 2009, when Chinese authorities shut down his blog, and his Earthquake project, during which Weiwei criticized government corruption for playing a role in the deaths of schoolchildren in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, there are his provocative photos from the Study of Perspective: theuy all show his left arm extended forward in front of a symbolic landmark like Tiananmen Square or the Eiffel Tower “giving the finger”. To whom? The landmarks, the established power, the viewer?  We don’t know the answer. And there are probably a lot of possible answers. Weiwei’s photos are an invitation to question yourself.


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