Friday 7 April 2023

Exhibition: Take another look

Ai Weiwei: Making Sense
The Design Museum, London • 7.Apr-30.Jul.23

An expert provocateur, Ai Weiwei brings a show of everyday items to London's Design Museum for a four-month show that looks deceptively simple but continually challenges us to see human history from new angles. The exhibition is mainly in one large room, with a few items scattered around outside, and the juxtaposition of the various elements adds layers of intense meaning. So it's well worth paying attention.

All of Ai's various forms of expression - as an artist, activist, filmmaker, architect and collector - come together here, set out in three sections... 

Evidence features five fields of man-made objects on the floor: Stone Age tools, Song dynasty (960-1279 CE) porcelain tea spouts, ceramic cannon balls from the same era, broken sculptures from Ai's studio (destroyed by Chinese officials) and Lego blocks. It's fascinating to see the ancient items as everyday things that once weren't special at all. And an electrifying touch is the shape of an iPhone carved out of a Neolithic era jade axe, connecting the whole of human history.

Construction/ Destruction
plays with both architectural ideas and natural and political upheaval. This includes images that document the building of the Beijing Bird Nest Stadium for the 2008 Olympics, which Ai helped design. Coloured photos aim rude hand gestures at various buildings that represent power and culture. Two dragons snake along the wall, one made of backpacks dedicated to students who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake (their names are also stamped in frames on the wall) and one made of live vests representing refugees coming to Europe. Through deconstructs Qing dynasty temple (1644-1911 CE), which is rebuilt into something new. And Monet's panoramic Water Lilies is re-created with more than 600,000 Legos.

Ordinary Things recasts objects we deal with on a daily basis out of new materials, from a glass toilet roll and jade handcuffs to a crystal hangar and marble takeout box. Two marble armchairs are in front of the museum. And then there's the brain-bending 2000-year-old Han dynasty vase emblazoned with a Coca-Cola logo.

While each of these pieces is powerful on its own, the way they are interact makes this exhibition extraordinary. Ai Weiwei is forcing us to look at ourself in the context of our own history, to see what humans have always been and what we have made of the world. It's a show that alters how we see everything around us. The question is how this might change the way we interact with the world we live in right now.

For information, visit DESIGN MUSEUM >


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