As part of their 50 years of supporting emerging artists and writers during the early phases of their careers, The Fine Arts Work Center commemorates this milestone occasion with the solo exhibition Ai Weiwei: Rebar and Case in collaboration with Chambers Fine Art.
Drawing on the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province that caused the deaths of 69,000 individuals, of which more than 5,000 were schoolchildren in the Wenchuan district, Rebar and Case is a sculptural installation that highlights Ai Weiwei’s stance on political urgency and contemporary relevance. The Work Center states how they are particularly honoured to present this compelling work on the 10-year anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake, on top of the extraordinary week that they have dedicated to artists and writers as activists.
Ai Wei Wei, Rebar and Case, Huali Wood, Marble and Foam. Image courtesy of Chambers Fine Art
Rebar and Case is constituted of 8 sculptures, derived from the 8.0 magnitude that struck the Sichuan Province in China on May 12, 2008. In an effort to bring awareness to the names of the 5,000 schoolchildren who were killed due to the shoddily constructed schools in Wenchuan district, Ai organized the Citizens’ Investigation. He additionally bought 200 tons of twisted rebar salvaged from these destroyed building and used them in installation projects.
Ai finds himself haunted by the earthquake and its aftermath to this day. He takes to these emotions by focusing on single pieces of twisted rebar in Rebar and Case. Replicas of steel originals are carved in marble and housed in boxes made from huali wood, a precious material used in Chinese furniture during the Ming and Qing dynasties. We note how Ai rarely separates art, architecture and even curating. This is further emphasized by the observation that his boxes are both abstract sculptures and containers for delicate marble forms that are heavy and ridden with context, history, and meaning.
Ai Weiwei, Rebar and Case. Image courtesy of the Museum of Cycladic Art
Included in this show are images from A Study of Perspective, a photo series from 1995. In this series, Ai captured images of his extended middle finger pointed towards monuments, institutions and sites of cultural and political power. This gesture is extracted and repeated in a continuous pattern in the wallpaper Finger, and covers the walls of the Hudson D. Walker Gallery at The Fine Arts Work Center. We find wallpaper transformed into Ai’s medium, and how there exists a marked disjunction between its decorative function and how he adopts politically sensitive subject matters as motif. In conjunction with the Provincetown International Film Festival, The Work Center additionally hosted Human Flow, Ai’s documentary on the global refugee crisis.
Ai Weiwei, Study in Perspective series. Image courtesy of ResearchGate
Ai Weiwei, Finger, Wallpaper. Image courtesy of Chambers Fine Art
Outside of this exhibition, Ai’s more recent works are incredible, astoundingly varied, and provide in-depth reflections and investigations on the current refugee crisis. A child refugee himself, Ai was born in 1957, the same year that China purged more than 300,000 intellectuals, writers, teachers, and journalists alike; anyone who found the capacity to speak up against the newly established communist government. Ai was also detained and unable to leave China when this show first exhibited at Chambers Fine Art in 2014. His passport was eventually returned to him, and he travelled to Berlin where he currently resides.
Ai Weiwei: Rebar and Case is on show from 22nd July to 30 August at The Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA
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