Between Digital and Material: Ai Weiwei in London

Taking into account the sheer size of installations filling the monumental rooms of the Royal Academy in London, it is quite difficult to comprehend how much of Ai Weiwei’s work actually relies on the immateriality of the digital world. And yet, this exhibition cannot but point to the Chinese artist’s dependence on the ‘online’ world – be it as a tool that allows him to maintain a relationship with the outside world in the moment of his reclusion, be it as the central subject of his monumental explorations. The first survey of Ai Weiwei’s work in the UK, the show maintains a dynamic balance between the physicality of the installation and the immaterial, yet closely interwoven, digital world.

Working in a variety of different contexts, Ai Weiwei, in fact, transforms materials to convey his ideas, whether in wood, porcelain, marble or jade, testing the skills of the craftsmen working to his brief in the process. Sculptures such as Surveillance Camera, 2010 and Video Camera, 2010, both masterpieces in craftsmanship, monumentalise the technology used to monitor, simultaneously rendering it useless and absurd. For this exhibition, Ai Weiwei has created new work, including site specific sculptural installation of monumental Tree displayed in the Annenberg Courtyard, consisting of eight individual trees, each measuring around seven metres tall. The installation was funded through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, where £123,577 was raised; the largest amount ever raised for a European art project on Kickstarter.

Citing Duchamp as ‘the most, if not the only, influential figure’ in his art practice, Ai continues to engage with creative tensions between complex art histories, conceiving works with multiple readings in the process – and often building tension between political powers in China. In fact, the opening of the exhibition marked Weiwei’s first trip outside the country in four years. Ai Weiwei’s show will remain on view until 13 December 2015 at Royal Academy in London.

The Blogazine – Images courtesy of the Royal Academy