Mass-production- Part I

Artists have been known throughout different times of history to be contrarians that challenged public opinions and rebelled against established rulings; therefore it is not for Ai Wei Wei's public reputation of standing up to an oppressive government that drew me to pay attention to his works.  In fact, I avoided looking too much at his works because he seemed like an artist that I should instantly favor.  These reasons are quite obvious- for example that he is a Chinese who received Western education (I, too was born and raised in China and received a Western education), he takes a critical stance of the ever-changing and complex political landscape of the PRC that has a potential of gradually growing into a world-leading nation in spite of its complicated ancient history (and thus I, too agree that that when compared to the US, the Chinese government does seem regimental and merciless at times to certain individuals that do not fit in the big picture). Last but not least, Ai admits to have been mostly influenced by American Modern Art and the period of when artists began to experiment with abstraction as one of the ways to start a new aesthetic movement in the post-war times when popular culture and consumerism began to take precedence in people's daily lives (I, too feel an affinity to artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp.  Although I cannot say that I absolutely love every one of Donald Judd's geometric sculptures, but I do admit his "hands-off" approach certainly facilitated further the discourse of authorship and objecthood. His effort of trying to counter Greenberg's opinion of that only paintings can be flat but sculptures can only exist in 3-D, I also found it to be very interesting).  With all this said, I am ceasing my effort to resist the obvious and accept that with the criteria mentioned above, I have no reason to not like him (and if for some reason I should give off the impression of being otherwise, it is because I, too wish to be a rebel and a countrarian to the popular belief that Chinese people should find art by Chinese artists more meaningful).

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I visited my parents and they took me to D.C..  There, I had the chance to visit this much talked about exhibition that endured nearly a three-year delay before it finally opened at Hirshhorn MuseumAccording to What? is the largest scale exhibition that the contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has had in the United States.  After its inaugural opening at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Curator Mami Kataoka managed to open According to What? in Hirshhorn despite the inevitably delay incurred by the political controversies of which transpired by Ai's outspoken criticism toward the Chinese government.  While being accused of "inciting subversion of state power" via means of social media and his art, Ai had been put under arrest and physically attacked by the police.  At the time, Ai protested against government corruption and accused it for being neglectful of the people's rights in light of the alarming aftermath caused by a devastating earth quake in Sichuan in year 2008.  The below images are of one of the new works produced for this exhibition in response to the catastrophic human sufferings. 

Wenchuan Steel Rebar, 2008-12
steel rebar (40 tons)
detail
Image taken by me at Hirshhorn in late November, 2012

Wenchuan Steel Rebar, 2008-12
steel rebar (40 tons)
Image taken by me at Hirshhorn in late November, 2012
Children are said to be the hope and treasures of the future.  As a child in China, when going to school I remember wearing a red scarf (without it you will be asked to go home, return only when you have retrieved it.  However there was one occasion that a student from a senior level lend me one of his little red scarves so I didn't have to go home again) and then required to salute our nation's flag while to sing the national anthem each morning before we started classes.  Mao advocated that children are the seeds of the sunflower, while him being the sun that nourished the flower and the seeds would eventually mature as his promising offspring.  After the 2008 earth quake in Sichuan providence, there was an estimated loss of 7,000 inadequately engineered schoolrooms that collapsed and killed numerous school children.  The site as described in Ai's series of documentary photos of the natural disaster showed a large area covered with children school bags and text books among the debris of the broken structures. 

When Curator Mami Kataoka came to New York to give a talk as a part of a lecture series hosted by ICI (Independent Curators International), her recount of Ai's inspiration of which gave birth to Wenchan Steel Rebar, 2008-2012 was immensely moving.  Later when I saw this piece in Hirshhorn, I was instantly taken aback by the sheer scale of the work and its engineering for the skillful stacking of the steel rebar.  The 40 tons of steel rebar had been recovered by Ai from and among the rubble of the collapsed schoolrooms in Sichuan.  Together with a group of workers, Ai straightened each rebar from being twisted and bent from the earth quake collapse.  This gesture felt very touching, while Ai's attempt to re-straighten the damaged rebar also signified his intention to correct the wrong, but also his powerlessness to rectify the loss entirely.  While not able to reverse the damage or rebuild the schoolrooms or revive the dead children, as the piece presented- Ai was only able to try and straighten up the facts and thus to confront his viewers with the reality of loss and its dear consequences. 

The scale and arrangement of Wenchan Steel Rebar struck me not only as being massive but also architectural.  When looking at it from a certain distance, the whole piece seemed as if floating on air or covering a certain curvature of the floor.  The floor was not curved I can be certain of that, but how the stacking of each rebar could give off this sense of illusion was fascinating to me.  I named this posting as Mass production, because this element has been prevalent in Ai's most recently produced pieces. While implementing repetition, presenting seemingly the same item over and over as to convey its importance as a massive entity rather than to be identified individually.  This seemed to coincide with the Chinese government's treatment of its people, that the individual's rights is never as important as what should be considered beneficial to the overall population and the country.  Yet, clearly aware of this social phenomena, Ai in contrast directs emphasis on the individual as to how, I shall give a few more examples later.  But before then, here is an image of another piece inspired by the earth quake and it is called Snake Ceilings, 2009 of which is entirely made up of school backpacks.

Snake Ceiling, 2009
backpacks, 15 3/4 x 354 5/16 in. (40 x 900 cm)
partial view
Image taken by me at Hirshhorn in late November, 2012
(more to come... as I am trying to wrap my head around its massiveness)

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