Thursday, February 18, 2016

"One of the Most Significant Artists of the Century" - Ai Wei Wei and the Internet

"Illuminate" self-portrait by Ai Wei Wei, taken using an iPhone

 Walking through the Wei Wei x Warhol exhibition that has been showing over the past few months at the National Gallery of Victoria was an eye opening experience. While I knew some of Andy Warhol's famous pieces, via various pop culture references, I was unware of the staggering influence of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei and the blatant messages of freedom and protest laced throughout his work.

One of the most stunning and emotive pieces I found in the exhibition was the above photograph, 'Illuminate'. Upon first glance I thought that the photograph had been taken in the middle of a street in China, with Wei Wei at the forefront holding a sparkler. Upon closer inspection however, the piece proved to be a staggering expression of subversive protest using the new influencer-based culture expressed through social media: Wei Wei took this 'selfie' while being arrested by Chinese police, in the elevator of the hotel he was staying in at the time.

Wei Wei is vocally subversive: After spending two decades living in New York City, photographing everyone from Warhol to the homeless, he chose to return to China and face, head-on, the reality of living in a country with a reductive hold on freedom of speech and expression.

"I think those technology platforms [the internet and social media] constantly put the government on trial. And every event, every policy they make, people will laugh about it, and they will make fun about it.
This is amazing for the younger generation."
– Ai Weiwei

"I try to tell myself to pay more attention to other people's voices ... and to build the weak voices, or the people who have no voice, to help them." - Ai Wei Wei

Playing inside the 'Silver Clouds' installation at the NGV

Wei Wei still resides in China, having had his passport revoked by Chinese authorities after being gaoled for 81 days following his citizen investigation into corruption in Sichuan schools, following the 2008 earthquake. However, he is due to begin a three-year stint as a guest professor at the University of Berlin in Germany.

"I think everyone has the right to decide on their own principles.” - Ai Wei Wei

Andy Warhol - Ai Wei Wei will be showing at the National Gallery of Victoria until the 11th of April, 2016.