Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Little escap(ad)e: Ai WeiWei in Berlin

One of the things I had planned and prepared when I left for Berlin was that I wanted to go and see the big exhibition by Ai Wei Wei in Martin-Gropius-Bau. 

I could walk there from my hostel in less than ten minutes. And I had even prepared for the exhibition by getting an online ticket. With that I was amongst the first to be let in as we got to wait in a separate lane in front of the door, and did not have to wait in line at the ticket office.

Photography was allowed explicitly – the guards said “take all the pictures you want, indulge! But, please, no flash!” Now how is that for a change? In the end I had taken fewer pictures than I thought.

It was the second exhibition of his that I have seen. And again I found it a very moving experience – although this time around it was more because of all the political implications and statements expressed through the works on display.
For example, there was the installation to scale of the uninhabited islands of dispute between Japan and China.

Then the recurring motif of the effects of the big earthquake – e.g. the bars of reinforcement either in their post-quake deranged form, or as a replica in marble.

Another strong motif was his personal prosecution through Chinese authorities. Two large rooms were wallpapered with reprints of the bonds Ai WeiWei issued when he had been sentenced to pay back taxes, which resulted in many donations to help him pay off the debts.

In another room you could enter – not more than five persons at the same time – an exact replica of the cell in which he was detained for over 80 days, including the pictures transmitted by the surveillance cameras which were installed in three places within the cell.

Totally overwhelming, but not at all representable in a picture, was the installation of over 6000 stools from several centuries which covered the entire large entry hall. Hundreds of years, and the design of the stools hasn’t changed at all, whereas now so much in China – and not only there – is changing so rapidly.

What I found rather annoying, however, was that in order to take a look from the balcony in the first floor above you would have had to pay the entrance fee for the exhibition on the first floor, even if you did not want to see that other exhibition. (I didn’t.)

The political aspect of the exhibition was, I felt, much stronger than in the exhibition at Haus der Kunst which I had seen a few years ago. although that had already been a very political one. I wonder how long he will last – will they break him, or will he manage to stick it out? Because he won’t be half as effective in his art and oppositional statements should he leave China...

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