The lead up to He Xie (Crabs) – 河蟹
Artist Ai Weiwei, it seems, is always surrounded by controversy whether it is in relation to his visual masterpieces or his activism. Mr. Ai’s run-ins with the Chinese government have continued to border on dangerous but the revered artist is always willing to include these elements in his performance art. In 2010, Ai ran into the Chinese police in an unfortunate encounter whereby the local government tore down a large new studio that Ai had built in Shanghai as a result of ‘code violations’.
Before the studio was demolished, Ai hosted a dinner at the Shanghai studio, which he was barred by the government from attending, as a satirical nod to the studio’s planned destruction by the administration. The dinner was characterized by one of Ai’s most talked about installations- He Xie (crabs).
Rirkrit Tiravanija – Untitled, 2015 (bangkok boogie woogie, no. 1), 2015, Art Basel Unlimited 2018
Video/Film, Bronze tires, copper sheets, video, color, sound
Photo: Public Delivery
Rirkrit Tiravanija – Untitled, 2015 (bangkok boogie woogie, no. 1), 2015
“In 2010, Bangkok erupted in violence with protesters from both the Left and Right, battling the military in the streets. The main weapon on both sides was the tire, both as a barricade and as improvised Molotov cocktail, rolled instead of thrown. In 2015, Rirkrit Tiravanija created an installation, untitled 2015 (bangkok boogie woogie, no. 1), sourced from this particularly vernacular form of action, straight from the streets of his hometown. In what became the very last action at the old Gavin Brown’s enterprise space on Greenwich St. in New York before it was demolished, Tiravanija cast rubber tires into bronze doppelgängers, and rolled them flaming through the gallery filled with petroleum fuel; all of this was filmed, edited, and used as the backdrop for the installation. The mirrored copper floor reflects the rolling burning movement, while the metal tires produce a clanging soundtrack, conjuring a feeling of violent assault within the gallery space. Part political reflection, and part kinetic experiment, untitled 2015 (bangkok boogie woogie, no. 1) passes on messages from the protesters, and also from other brothers-in-arms: Fischli & Weiss, Allan Kaprow, and Jean Tinguely.”
Jetzer, Gianni (2018) retrieved from artbasel.com/artworks
Ai Weiwei – Forever Bicycles, 2014. 1,254 bicycles. Dimensions variable. Installation view, Waller Creek Delta, The Contemporary Austin – Museum Without Walls Program, Austin, Texas, 2017
Photo: Brian Fitzsimmons
Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles installation
Bicycles have always featured in Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s installations. The very first time that Ai used bicycles was in his installation known as Very Yao in 2008. As the years have passed, his use of bicycles has only gotten grander as is evident in his piece titled the Forever Bicycles. In Forever Bicycles, Ai used Shanghai-based Forever Company bicycles to make his massive installation. The repetitiveness and the size of the installation were intended to allude to China’s mass production, which is well known to fuel the Chinese manufacturing industry.
Ai Weiwei – Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995
Ai Weiwei’s desire to court controversy
Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn as an art is brilliant and a work of total ingenuity, but in between the lines, it says a lot about the artist: his desire to court controversy. The return of Ai Weiwei to China after living in New York City for more than a decade in 1981–1993 marked the beginning of a new form of art, dedicating some of his works to the themes of transformation and destruction. He embarked on collecting ancient vessels with the aim of converting them into contemporary art pieces. Some people viewed this act as a way of collaborating with the ancient artists’ work, but some argued that it was misappropriating the artists’ work without their approval. This act provoked emotions since the urns were considered a form of consumer culture and heritage preservation, especially since he dropped it intentionally.
Ai Weiwei – Coloured Vases, 2006
Why did Ai Weiwei cover the vases with brightly colored paint?
Exhibition visitors have expressed feelings of uneasiness or even pain and nostalgia when seeing Coloured Vases by Ai Weiwei1. The 51 vases that make up the artwork are originally treasures from the Neolithic Age (5000–3000 BCE) and the artist has dunked them in common industrial paint, commenting on the devastation caused by the Chinese Cultural Revolution2 and the disregard for centuries-old craftsmanship3. By covering the surfaces, the history of the vases is no longer visible, but still there, beneath the dried layer of industrial color. Some viewers have felt provoked by this audacious act, in their eyes destroying something rare and precious, instead of safeguarding and worshipping it.
Like with many other works by Ai Weiwei, he uses irony to challenge viewers’ assumptions and perspectives. As China’s most notorious artist, he finds himself in constant confrontation with the Chinese authorities, and Coloured Vases is an essential piece in his rebellious oeuvre.
Ai Weiwei – Coloured Vases, 2006, Neolithic vases (5000-3000 BC), industrial paint, 51 pieces, dimensions variable
Ai Weiwei – Coloured Vases, 2006
Ai Weiwei – Study of Perspective, Tiananmen, 1995-2010, C-Print, 32,5×43,5cm
Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and activist. He has been vocal and openly critical of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights. His work has captured global attention and served to bring attention to social injustices, human rights violations and systemic violence.
Ai Weiwei – Han Dynasty Vases in Auto Paint, 2014, Han Dynasty vases (202 BC to 220 AD) and auto paint, dimensions variable
‘Han Dynasty Vases in Auto Paint’
The Han Dynasty Vases with Auto-Paint is a work shown as part of Ai Weiwei’s solo exhibition “Evidence”. It is a series of neolithic vases, painted smooth and shining with brightly colored automotive paint. The aged vessels are given new context, evoking the mass marketing and luxurious consumerist appeal of the goods typically adorned with this type of paint, that are highly coveted in China. By destroying their historical value, he creates a highly politicized satire that calls into question the nature of art.