Starting this past November until April 2018, Ai Weiwei’s work is making waves at Fundación Proa, in La Boca. Curated by Marcello Dantas, ‘Inoculation’ is the first exhibition of Chinese activist and contemporary artist Ai Weiwei’s work in Argentina.
The exhibition nods to his ‘classics’ – his room full of sunflower seeds, and a new lego depiction of the infamous 1995 photographs of Ai calmly smashing a ceremonial urn from the Han dynasty – as well as showcasing Ai’s most recent works, which are focused on the lives of refugees. The large scope of this exhibition sees it expand beyond the walls of the gallery, and Ai’s sculpture ‘Forever Bicycles’ brings together the space of the gallery and the city, and combines Chinese art and Western art.
Like his artwork, which involves many projects dedicated to public work and social intervention, Ai Weiwei’s life is testament to the idea that ‘the personal is political‘. As son of the writer Gao Ying, and of the poet Ai Qing, who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist movement, Ai Weiwei spent three years of his childhood in a labor camp and subsequently 16 years in exile with his parents. The family returned to Beijing in 1976, where Ai Weiwei embarked on his artistic career. He moved to the US in 1981, where he came into contact with contemporary Western art, and the avant-garde ‘ready-made’ art of artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. This exposure to a different kind of art was decisive for his later work.
The ground floor of the exhibition attends primarily to work that centres on Ai himself, and on his engagement with China and Chinese politics. The first room is watched over by an oversized white CCTV camera in one corner, and also by Ai Weiwei’s arrest photo from 2009 – a huge selfie of Ai Weiwei in a mirrored lift stood between a security officer and a man in a hat. Arranged diagonally down the room – as though deliberately in the sightline of the CCTV camera – are 4 cases which contain a range of objects. One case holds a map of China; another holds two pairs of handcuffs, one pair carved of a wood which seems to match that of the case which contains it; a third case holds bone-fragments like an archaeological display; and the fourth case contains sculptural objects which resemble a range of sex toys.
Also on the ground floor of the exhibition are Ai’s beautiful wooden ‘Moon Chest’ (2008) and the porcelain crabs – as well as the striking story behind them. In 2008 the Jiading District government invited Ai Weiwei to build a studio as part of the state’s initiatives to promote local culture. In 2010, the artist began to organize the opening party where he would display 10,000 river crabs in reference to the similarity between the Chinese word for ‘river crab’ and for ‘harmonise’, which is also a common euphemism for government censorship in China.
Within a few months, the Shanghai government declared the studio to be an illegal construction and ordered its demolition, and Ai was placed under house arrest. Nevertheless, the river crab party did take place, eventually, and the exhibition bears witness to these crabs and their story – displaying them alongside photographs of the studio before and after demolition.
Up the stairs the exhibition concludes with moving works which depict and explore the experiences of refugees in the modern day. Ai Weiwei’s documentary Human Flow depicts the enormity of the refugees’ suffering in today’s world. The works collected here are testament to the enormity of the problem and the human fragility of the people who live through it.
Ai Weiwei’s work engages with a truth of today’s world. His work does not ‘inoculate’ viewers, but instead turns their attention towards present truths in a way which feels strikingly necessary.
Ai Weiwei’s work is on display at Fundación Proa in La Boca until the 2nd of April 2018.