Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy of Arts

I was very happy to be able to see Ai Weiwei's exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. I have a bit of an ambiguous relationship with installations and abstract art, but I've always had great respect and admiration of Ai's drive and determination in face of China's system of government, both as an artist and a citizen. Ai's politics are central to this show, with the exhibition overall focussing on his relationship with China. The works on display are often hugely tactile, large, and emotional in their literal embodiment of government corruption. Within the exhibition, and the treatment of Ai Weiwei in the British Press, Ai's studio becomes symbolic of resistance to China's regime.

After a crowd funding campaign, the trees can be experienced for free in the RA courtyard. These trees were created from pieces of trees which died naturally, which were subsequently sold in pieces in markets. People looking for innovative ways to make some money, or the commodification of the natural world? Ai created the trees from the pieces that he bought. They were very imposing on the gloomy November morning.

A couch beneath allows people to sit and look up at the branches; but a lady was contributing to the installation by applying a full face of make-up.

According to the Guardian, Ai describes the process of creating these trees as "just trying to imagine what the tree looked like”. To me, the simplicity in this statement calls into question our preoccupation with validation and the creation of value, specifically regarding the art world and celebrity.

The exhibition describes his work as being influenced by Dada. This was very helpful for me as a gallery visitor, for the simple association with a movement and art philosophy helped me situate Ai's work and understand it in a broader context.  Ideas and objects are as important as the overall messages intrinsic in the work. Sometimes subtle, sometimes very obvious, Ai's art works to challenge preconceived normals, and what is considered of importance and value in society.

Ai Weiwei's show at the Royal Academy: amongst Trees, selfies, tourist portraits, and the union jack flag.

This is an important exhibition. Situated at the Royal Academy of Arts, this is no trendy, edgy, fleeting show; it has weight and significance. We must not ignore the injustices which the Chinese government exert on its citizens, even though our economy is dependent on said government. The British establishment has made its loyalties clear in the recent treatment of those protesting the Chinese government in London. Ai Weiwei's show makes it clear, however, that government corruption is real; and that people resisting it are right in doing so.

I won't go into detail on the specifics of the exhibition, as you can find that in the broadsheets' arts columns if you wish to. Or, go with an interest in the work but allow yourself to be surprised by what's on offer. You cannot fail to be moved.

Ai Weiwei
Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly
Until December 13
Click here for information on tickets

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