Author: Bojan Blazhevski
On the 16th of March, at the Albertina Modern Museum in Vienna, a comprehensive retrospective exhibition by the renowned Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei was opened. The exhibition named “In Search of Humanity” gathers in one place Weiwei’s artworks coming from different collections at one location, along with his documentary films. This is happening during the period when Europe is facing a major humanitarian crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The exhibition consists of artworks encompassing all periods of Weiwei’s artistic career in the past 4 decades, starting from his earliest to his latest works, where subjects such as the COVID-19 pandemic, China and the non-democratic forms of rule throughout the world are unavoidable.
At the opening of the exhibition, Ai Weiwei told the journalists that with the war in Ukraine, the pillars of democracy and freedom in the world have been shattered, while the war and the mass refugee crisis have caused him to fear “the so-called peaceful life after the Second World War.” He describes the Russian invasion of Ukraine as unacceptable, while at the same time he expresses his concern about global divisions throughout the world.
Meta.mk has visited the exhibition of one of the greatest artists of today during the first days of its opening in Vienna. It is evident that “Albertina Modern” has put into focus his artworks that deal with his viewpoint on one of the most significant international events, for which he is best known.
His artwork “A Metal Door with Bullet Holes” dating from 2015 is taking a central place at the exhibition’s entrance. It’s an enormous metal door with holes from shelling, which Ai Weiwei has discovered while recording in Syria near the Turkish border. This door is a witness to the violence from the war present in Syria in the past period.
A significant share of his art creation is devoted to the refugees. In 2015, this artist took a trip to the Greek island Lesvos, where he noticed the lifesaving jackets used by refugees that are crossing the Mediterranean Sea in order to escape from the horrors in the Middle East. Inspired by this, his work “Cristal Ball “dating from 2017 consists of numerous lifesaving jackets surrounding a giant crystal ball. He is using it to set the question about the fate of the refugees or even more radically, to what extent, the refugees are left to their own destiny.
Apart from subjects of wars and refugees, in his earlier works, Ai Weiwei is critical toward China’s treatment of the cultural legacy and the consumerism, and as a result, the Chinese traditional vases from the neolithic period have imprinted on them the logo of Coca-Cola with the “non-ideal” portraits of the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.
The poverty, China’s cultural revolution that killed his father as well, the destruction of the cultural heritage, the corruption of the one-party system and its systematic flaws, the criticism toward the Chinese concept of stigmatization of the individual, are interwoven throughout most of Ai Weiwei’s creative periods that are exhibited at Albertina Modern.
Maybe what gives the strongest impression are the consequences of the terrible earthquake in the Chinese province Sichuan, where around 70.000 people lost their lives. Ai Weiwei, on his own initiative, conducted a research in a period of 2 years, in order to reveal the names of 5.197 children who got killed under the rubble of the school buildings in Sichuan. This started the huge scandal about the low-quality construction works used for the school buildings and the coruptive motives behind it ,which Weiwei considers are the reasons for the demolition of such buildings.
After he announced the names of the killed pupils in the Sichuan Earthquake, the Chinese authorities firstlcensored Ai Wei Wei’s blog, and in the aftermath, its content was blocked completely across the Chinese internet, thus making a dissident out of him. His work, “Forge” (2008-2012) is probably the artwork that instigates most emotions since it is placed in the same hall where the names of the killed pupils are also placed. The remnants of the deformed rebar serve as a reminder of the killed children who fell victims to the negligence of the Chinese authorities.
In the other halls, Ai Weiwei is casting a glance towards himself and the witness of the non-democratic manners of China’s state communist authorities, about the days spent in jail and the ways his native country acts towards him as a dissident only because he uncovers publicly the problems that the Chinese society faces with.
Apart from his criticism issued, the calls for humanity and seeking awakening, Ai Weiwei’s artworks are exceptionally innovative even with the inclusion of Lego brick sets as a medium in producing his work. In one of them, he is reshaping the Saudi national flag after the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Kashogi, which happened in Istanbul in 2018. His last words “I can’t breathe” are written on the Saudi flag with Lego bricks.
Ai Weiwei stresses that his exhibition in Viena is radical and critically oriented. Whenever a problem appears that concerns humanity, his mission is to go out and to feel the suffering, to “walk a mile in their shoes,” which will contribute to the final artwork.
Undoubtedly, the exhibition “In Search of Humanity” n Viena is worth the visit. The reminiscence of important international events, Ai Weiwei’s opinion of them are just one layer, which is complemented with the visitor’s “privilege” to get acquainted with all of the author’s creative periods, and the completeness of his output that was presented by Albertina Moderna. The Ai Weiwei exhibition in Viena will be open until the 4th of September this year.
Author: Bojan Blaževski