PHOTOS AND WRITING BY MONIKA CSAPO
Ai Wewei`s ongoing exhibition at the 21er Haus in Vienna is a travel in time and space, moreover it is a travel to home, culture and identity. The central question of Translocation- Transformation is the metamorphosis following deliberate or forced changes and dislocation and its effect on people and objects alike.
The main installation at the 21er Haus is the Wang Ancestral Hall which used to be the main hall of an ancestral temple of a tea merchant family from the time of the Ming Dinasty. The structure of the main hall is 14 meters high and consists of 1300 wooden pieces. The installation represents Ai Weiwei`s definition of art. He says:"to set up new questions, to create a basic structure which can be open to possibilities is the most interesting part in my work. And I want people who don`t understand art understand what I am doing". One can understand the installation without having a lot of background information on Chinese culture. The whole exhibition is airy and light still captivating.
The ancestral hall which was completed with new colorful parts gives a feeling of home and protection. It becomes clear only after researching the topic a bit that it is only the ghost core of a once were luxurious building. Ai Weiwei bought the complete hall and assembled the parts for the installation, also the new colorful pieces were added by him. The installation is a symbol of taking care of something lost, dusting it off and restoring its once were shine, of rebirth and continuation. It does not represent only a certain type of building or the fate of Chinese traditions in general. It is also a metaphor of so many of us nowadays: people who travel, change places often, live in different countries during their lives. Every time when one`s geographic location or life situation changes one has to adapt to a new environment, redefine himself, build new connections to the old ones.
Ancestral temples once belonged to local families and were dedicated to deified ancestors and progenitors. They were built in honor of one`s lineage and gave place to cultural ceremonies and festivals. After the families to whom they belonged were forcefully relocated to other parts of China the buildings were secularized and served often as village schools or granaries. They have experienced a revival since the economic liberalization of the 1980s. Especially in Southern China where lineage organization had stronger roots and local communities were more likely to have members living overseas who could financially support rebuilding of the shrines.
The other two installations in the room support the ancestral hall. One is an assembly of thousands of broken antique tea spouts. The other are two small houses which pay homage to traditional Chinese architecture.
The exhibition continues outside at Upper Belvedere palace where you can see Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads symbolizing the zodiac sculptures which were destroyed and/or stolen during the destruction of the Old Summer Palace during the Second Opium War. Five animal heads were found- two in the private art collection of Yves-Saint Laurent- since then, others are still missing. The Circle of Animals is Ai Wei Wei`s reinterpretation of the original circle.
Besides this you can see F Lotus in the Belvedere fountain which is a swimming installation made of 1,005 deflated life jackets of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea. This is certainly a reflection on the current global refugee crisis. To make this installation Ai Weiwei set up a studio on a Greek island where he collected the life jackets personally. It can definitely be said about him that he dives into the topics what he processes in his works. You can see this also in the Youtube video of Sunflower Seeds.
Ai Weiwei`s work consists of layers and certain conclusions are not pushed into the visitors face straight ahead. Each installation of the Translocation-Transformation exhibition carries a meaning also on its own and is a symbol by itself even without knowing the background history of it. I ended my tour inside Belvedere Palace where three mythical creatures from the Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Sees) made of silk and bamboo were floating over the visitors head. This part of the exhibition was really easy to absorb, the installations got almost lost in the space of the big entrance hall of Belvedere. They were still interesting though, I liked the six-headed bird the most. I did not know Ai Weiwei before I saw this exhibition, I picked it from the Vienna program guide because it seemed to be the most interesting ongoing exhibition. It was not a disappointment and was just as good in live as I imagined it to be. If you visit Vienna until the end of November I recommend you to see Translocation-Tranformations because it is really a one of a kind sort of exhibition. The combined ticket to 21er Haus and Upper Belvedere is somewhat pricey, it costs 18€. If you are on a limited budget I would recommend you to view the segment at 21er Haus for 7€/student ticket 5,5€ and the installations in the garden of Belvedere Palace for free.
About the artist (source: former exhibition guides)
Ai WeWei is one of the most prominent artists of the 21st century whose work encompasses sculpture and mixed media installation, photography, film, architecture, curation and social criticism. His art often responds to conditions in his native China- from revisiting its ancient traditions to challenging its current political regime- but he also manages to transform topics to a more general level and reflect on global issues.
Being born in Beijing in 1957, Ai Weiwei is the son of poet Ai Quing who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement. Ai lived in Xinjiang with his family from 1960 to 1976. In 1981 he relocated to the USA where he studied and lived for over a decade in New York`s East Village before returning to China in the early 90`s.
On April 3, 2011, he was arrested by Chinese police at the Beijing Capital International Airport. He was detained for 81 days on charges of tax evasion, and released on bail on June 22, 2011. The bail was lifted one year later.
Ai Weiwei`s work has been featured in museums, art fairs, and public spaces internationally. His major solo exhibitions include Ai Weiwei in the Chapel, on view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park through November 2, 2014; Evidence at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 2014; Ai Weiwei: According to What?, which was organized by the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, in 2009 and traveled to North American venues in 2013–14; Ai Weiwei: Absent at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2011; Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads at the Pulitzer Fountain, New York, 2011; and Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern, London, 2010. Ai created three large-scale installations for the 2013 Venice Biennale. He collaborated with architects Herzog & de Meuron on the design for the “bird’s nest” stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and on the design for the 2012 Serpentine Pavilion in London.
He actively uses digital and social media to express his views and to connect with an ever-expanding international following. He lives currently in Berlin.