Beijing-based writer and art professional Melanie Wang brought to our attention the upcoming November 17th court case of Wu Yuren, a Chinese photographer and installation artist whose provocative work and political activism have earned him the nickname “Little Ai,” a play on the artist Ai Weiwei’s reputation for not shying away from defiance in the face of pressure from the Chinese government. The trial is another step in the conflict between artists and the forces of Chinese politics.
A number of news sources are reporting that Chinese art great Ai Weiwei is under house arrest in his north Beijing home. “I am under house arrest,” Mr Ai told The Daily Telegraph by telephone. “They asked me not to go and to tell everyone the party was off, but I said I couldn’t do that and they’d have to stop me.”
Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds at the Tate’s Turbine Hall space in London opened to a good deal of rejoicing. Viewers and critics alike were entranced by the installation, a field of 100 million sunflower seeds that were actually carved from porcelain. An abundance of press photos show exhibition-goers frolicking in piles of seeds, tossing them up into the air, making seed-angels and having a great time. HOWEVER! The Tate has since been forced to alter Ai’s exhibition due to health hazards: the tons of porcelain seeds were kicking up a fine ceramic dust, easily breathed into the lungs of art aficionados. Visitors can now only gaze at Ai’s piece from a cordoned off observation deck.
Ai Weiwei, internationally famed artist and chief provocateur of the Chinese art world, opened his London Turbine Hall installation today, the eleventh, and first for an Asian artist, in the Tate’s Unilever series of exhibitions.
The installation forms a gesture both classic for the artist and yet totally unexpected: a carpet of sunflower seeds now covers over 1,000 of the Turbine Hall’s 3,400 square meters of floorspace, in total over 150 tons. Photos from afar show an unmeasurable expanse of gray, a rectangular infinity that calls to mind Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s candy fields: part minimalist, part maximalist. The seed carpet is visually stunning, but beyond its striking appearance, the installation has a deep political, historical and social background.
As Frog design Creative Director Adam Richardson noted in an influential talk he gave at the most recent Next Web Conference, the Internet until recently has been like the railroad, which has forced us to adapt to its rules. In the coming years, it will be more like cars, which adapt to us. In other words, the digital is getting physical … so, how does art fit in?
The most striking aspect of social media art is that it contains facets of net.art, by being digital; visual art, by existing on a two-dimensional surface; public art, by existing in spaces used habitually by hundreds of millions of people; and performance art, by being inherently social. Whether the aggregate is greater than its sum remains to be seen …
Chances are if you’ve been following art news in the past few weeks, you’ve seen the name Ai Weiwei. Ai’s been all over the place lately, having a public conversation with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, getting interviewed on CNN about the role of social media in Chinese politics, and documenting recent artist protests in Beijing. The artist was even announced as the eleventh commission for the London Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall installation series, a run of exhibitions featuring such luminaries as Doris Salcedo, Rachel Whiteread and Olafur Eliasson.