Ai WeiWei at The Royal Academy of Arts

I saw Ai WeiWei’s exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts and took great inspiration from it. Given a media headset as you walked in, you were informed about the artwork as you were walking around viewing the pieces. His work addresses issues regarding the Chinese government and his personal experiences with them.

Some of his sculptures used traditional Chinese joinery techniques, connecting woods and materials together to create structures relevant to his childhood and upbringing. One piece that stood out to me greatly was his work based on the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. The structure is made from metal rods and poles found in the devastation the earthquake left behind. The shape and height of the structure represents that of China, paying close attention to the contours of the country. On the walls either side hung endless lists of names of teenagers and children who disappeared in the duration of the earthquake and were never to be seen again. WeiWei had to research thoroughly in to this, talking to victim’s families who were affected by this as the Chinese government did not release any names of the deceased. This work was particularly interesting to me having studied the earthquake in school for Geography a-level which continues to be an interest of mine, and I hope to reflect through my work this year by incorporating current affairs or raising issues of my concern in to my practise.

Something that caught my attention reflecting on the exhibition was the mix of traditional and new, digital mediums. In one room of the exhibition Weiwei covered the wall in his own wallpaper which was a repeated pattern of CCTV cameras, handcuffs chained together and a bird which to me represent the Twitter logo, relating to people talking and information passed from one to another. In the same room stood numerous plinths with objects inside a glass box, ranging from obscure sex toys to faux bones. The works refer to the abuse of human-rights, lack of freedom of speech and state censorship. The wallpaper really stood out to me as I felt that it was visually glamourising the awful acts of governments and associations the Weiwei exploits in his exhibition.

This exhibition has definitely evoked practical ideas for my art this year and has given me great interest to look in to how gestures and objects can resemble and communicate issues or affairs I wish to highlight.

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