Society allows artists to explore what we don't know in ways that are distinct fromthe approaches of science, religion and philosophy. As a result, art bears a unique responsibility in the search for truth.
Ai Weiwei is one of the most important artists in the world today. He is known especially for work that is both poetic yet deeply resolved in the way it draws attention to unethical government policies.
Born in Beijing in 1957, Ai gained worldwide attention in 2011 after being arrested for ‘economic crimes’, which provoked an international campaign for his release. Subsequently the artist was banned from leaving China and his home remains under constant surveillance. Following his experiences recent works demonstrate a deepening concern with autocratic power and the absence of human rights.
Iron Tree (2013)
Iron Tree is the largest and most complex sculpture to date in the artist’s tree series, which he began in 2009. Inspired by the wood sold by street vendors in Jingdezhen, southern China, Ai’s trees are constructed from branches, roots and trunks from different trees. Although like a living tree in form, the sculptures are obviously pieced and joined together.
Iron Tree comprises 97 elements cast in iron from parts of trees, and interlocked using a classic – and here exaggerated – Chinese method of joining, with prominent nuts and screws. The work expresses Ai’s interest in fragments and the importance of the individual, without which the whole would not exist. The use of found wood in this work reflects the artist’s belief that every aspect of culture bears the stamp of its predecessors.
Ultimately the sculpture will rust over time and its installation in the secluded chapel garden makes a meditative space that gives pause for thought and is a powerful reminder of the cycles of nature.
Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads (2010) – 6 May 2017–22 April 2018
See Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads in Lower Park later this spring. Ai reinterpreted the 12 bronze heads representing the traditional Chinese zodiac that once adorned the famed fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, the imperial summer palace retreat in Beijing. Ransacked in 1860 during the Second Opium War by the British and French, only seven of the original heads have been returned to China – the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, horse, monkey, and boar. The locations of the other five – dragon, snake, goat, rooster, and dog – are still unknown. Central to Ai’s reimagined zodiac is the metamorphosis provoked by expulsion, migration, and deliberate change of location undergone by people and objects alike. In 2015, Ai was awarded the Ambassador of Conscience Award by Amnesty International.
Cast in bronze and standing three metres high, the sculptures each weigh 363kg. Through the re-interpretation of the heads on a larger scale, Ai comments and encourages debate on the politics of ownership, cultural history, repatriation and authenticity. The artist also wanted the work to be playful and accessible to the general public: "I want this to be seen as an object that doesn't have a monumental quality, but rather is a funny piece… people can relate to or interpret on many different levels, because everybody has a zodiac connection".