In July Austrian capital welcomed one of the living phenomenons of world’s contemporary art scene, Ai Weiwei, to present his newest exhibition entitled translocation - transformation. Spread throughout the Belvedere museum complex, the exhibit features a uniquely comprehensive body of work of this Chinese conceptual artist.
However, to describe Ai Weiwei simply as an artist, would be an immense demarcation of his orientation and accomplishments. He is a man of many hats: to project his ideas from abstract concepts into concrete reality Ai has dipped his toes into different art forms including photography, design, architecture, videography, sculpture and even writing. On top of that he is also a human rights activist, unafraid to speak his mind and openly critique the Chinese government.
Ai Weiwei was born in Peking in 1957, and spent his youth living in China but when the opportunity to leave presented itself, he headed off to U.S. There, he stayed 12 years, residing mainly in Big Apple. During that time he studied, worked and pursued his art.
Despite spending a lot of time outside his homeland, Ai’s roots never left his side and through the years manifested themselves in his work. He has consistently continued to produce thought-provoking art that has cultural and political connotations, yet doesn’t fail to incorporate history and heritage as the part of a mix. It almost seems, as if these different elements of China have turned into an inevitable component of Ai Weiwei’s creative process and, furthermore, have become ongoing themes within his body of work.
One of the Ai Weiwei’s renown, and indeed thought-provoking, artpieces that received a lot of media attention was his ‘Sunflower Seeds’ installation. It was exclusively produced for London’s Tate Modern and showcased inside its Turbine Hall in late 2010. The extensive project was composed of 100 million sunflower seeds covering the floor of the hall. Despite its incredibly realistic look, the seeds were, in actual fact, made solely of porcelain and weighted mind-boggling 150 tons. Each and every little piece was individually handcrafted in China in the Town of Jingde know as the Porcelain Capital. It was made by joint effort of 1600 craftsmen over the course of two and a half years and then sent to London for the exhibit. The piece was a metaphor to consumerism, what place individual has in society and more.
But if Sunflower Seeds did not ring a bell, maybe one of his more controversial works will. Study of Perspective was a collection of photographs created between years 1995 to 2003. It comprises of black and white captures from around the world that portray Ai Weiwei in front of famous national monuments. A man and a monument, what’s controversial about that you ask? Well, it wouldn’t be Ai Weiwei if there wasn’t a little twist and a strong message involved. The twist is that instead of him posing in front of the monuments, as one would expect, there is only artist’s hand, saluring the monument with his middle finger.
Nowadays, Ai Weiwei is based in Berlin and is a household name across the continents as he continues to fearlessly produce art and (not only) in that way manifest his thoughts on freedom and justice.
But back to Vienna, here is a brief preview of what you can come across if you decide to visit Belvedere. The artworks that are part of translocation - transformation exhibition consist of a selection of both, older and more recent projects. As the name suggests, the emphasis within the exhibition is placed on displacement and location change. In this way, the author brings up the current social issues such as migration or refugee crisis.
Flying objects inside the Upper Belvedere offer a beautifuly ethereal scene that make you feel as if you just entered a different world. The airy delicate sculptures made of Chinese traditional materials (bamboo and silk) are quietly hanging from the ceiling recalling us of the Chinese traditional kites. With this work, author points out translocation in the sense that evidently foreign mythological creatures occure in Western location.
From fragile sculpturesinspired by Chinese mytology, the exhibition moves to park behind Upper Belvedere where you meet Circle of Animals a.k.a. Zodiac Heads plus another artpiece called F Lotus.Seeing all that, you can continue to 21er Haus – a modern glass and steel bulding that is a branch of Belvedere. The bulding hosts another three creations from Ai Weiwei that all share the same theme, the theme of transformation.
One of them is Spouts.
Thousand of broken spouts form a small field as they spread through the floor inside the contemporary exhibition space.
As the ancient teapots changed form and simply became spouts, the function consequently changed and the transformation began.
Only few steps from the broken spouts lays another artpiece – a duo of teahouses. Main components of the work are Pu-Erh tea leaves which are partly compressed into a house-like sculptures and the partially left loosely on the ground.
The third and largest work found inside 21er Haus named Wang Family Ancestral Hall.
One of twelve massive bronze Zodiac Heads.
F Lotus is a direct reference to the current refugee crises that has been shaking the world. The installation consists of 1,005 worn life jackets forming themselves into lotus-like flowers and altogether arranging one giant F that floats on the surface of the park’s pond. And why the letter F you ask? Well, I let you be the judge.
If you would like to explore more of translocation - transformation, the exhibition is held at Belvedere until late November.