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
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.
In 2015, a Chinese studio known as People’s Architecture Office made waves on art and architecture media when they used metal air conditioning pipes to create large-scale Chinese characters on the front exterior of the Tabular Baitasi Visitor center during the Beijing Design Week. The Tabular Baitasi Visitor center has long been used to host events and exhibitions that showcase renewal or regeneration strategies for Beijing’s Batasi, which refers to a cultural and historical preservation zone situated within the capital.
Zhang Huan – My New York, 2002, Whitney Biennial, New York
Zhang Huan (张洹) is one of China’s best known conceptual and performance artists. In his sculptures and paintings he references the history of his home country. As such, his pieces contain components of political, religious and intellectual messages as well as anonymous portraits and landscapes scenes. Most of his works have mainly been used to promote Chinese culture and to spread a message with the intention of sanitizing the city. In particular, the issue of toilets is very dear to him and it has helped him create one of his most famous performance pieces.
Sun Yuan and Peng Yu – Dogs Which Cannot Touch Each Other, 2003, 8 Bull Terriers, 8 Running Machines Without Drive
The video work titled Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other has only recently been removed from Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition series known as Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World. The video series has been met with disapproval and disparagement not only by some art critics but animal lovers and welfare organizations as well. Critics claim that the exhibition would have featured a series of various distinct video presentations depicting instances of unmistakable and unacceptable animal cruelty in the name of art.
Shirin Neshat – Installation view of The Book of Kings at Faurschou Foundation Beijing
Photo by Jonathan Leijonhufvud
The Gladstone Gallery and the Faurschou Foundation in Beijing, China are just some of the art spaces that have had the pleasure of exhibiting Shirin Neshat’s The Book of Kings. The exhibition consisted of a total of 56 black and white photos framed in unmated and black frames that were hung across the two galleries. Neshat, “persona non grata” in Iran due to her art, created the photographs to reference a broad array of important and modern political metaphors.
Edward Burtynsky – Manufacturing #17, Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province, China, 2005
For Edward Burtynsky, photography is much more than immortalizing a scene; while his focus is on taking photos, he is keen on sharing his point of view with the rest of the world. One of the most outstanding aspects of his works is his ability to connect to the real world. China for instance is a massive country, comprised of 3.7-million-square-miles of manufacturing landscape and that means people are busy all the time. What is a picture of China without a hint of humanity? The many pictures Burtynsky has taken of China appear to be carefully thought out; each one makes use of a location that not only captures what is happening on a large-scale, but also the people who make it happen.
Marina Abramovic – The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk (still), 1988/2008, performed for 90 days along The Great Wall of China. 16mm film transferred to two-channel video
Artists Marina Abramovic and Ulay are known in many parts of the world as the lovers whose relationship ended at the Great Wall of China. Initially, when the couple planned the trip, they intended to get married at the center of the wall. However, it was years later when the couple finally acquired all the authorization required from the Chinese government and were able to raise funds for the projected. Sadly, by then, the couple’s 12-year relationship has crumbled and what started out as a marriage celebration turned into last goodbyes for the couple. The couple had planned to be the first people to walk the entirety of the Great Wall, however, they were beaten to the punch by a Chinese railway clerk.