The artist and activist Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) is probably the most internationally known of today’s Chinese contemporary artists. Since the 1980s, he has been combining references from Chinese art and political history with the artistic languages of Western avant-garde art. His fusion of artistic expression with political activism, questioning and commenting on Chinese and international social issues, often results in spectacular and overwhelming installations.
With Astrup Fearnley Museet’s two new works, the artist challenges the political and humanitarian conditions that many thousands of refugees from the Middle East have experienced on their way to Europe. Tyres and Odyssey were made as a response to the time Ai spent in Lesbos, the Greek island that in 2015 became a major and much-discussed arrival site for refugees escaping via the Mediterranean Sea. Ai Weiwei visited the island for the first time during the winter of 2015, and spent several months documenting and visualising life in refugee camps through photographs and video footage, which he uploaded to social media.
Tyres is composed of twelve replicas of a simple rubber lifebuoy ring, similar to the many that litter the shores and wash up on the beaches of Lesbos. Delicately handcrafted in fine marble, the life rings are elevated from trash to treasure. Tyres becomes symbolic of life and death; sometimes lifesaving, yet also a testament to the poor conditions and risk which the refugees face. Odyssey is a lyrical depiction of six themes that emerged from his experiences in the camps: war; the ruins of war; the journey undertaken by refugees; the crossing of the sea; the refugee camps; demonstrations and protests. The wallpaper derives its visual language from early Greek, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian carving, pottery, and wall painting. Ai juxtaposes this with iconography from modern-day conflicts, images found on social media and the internet, as well as depictions of Ai’s own personal engagement with the crisis. Overall, the two artworks constitute a moving artistic reflection on today's refugee crisis.
The works can now be seen in the exhibition Chinese Summer at Astrup Fearnley Museet, which presents leading Chinese contemporary art from the Astrup Fearnley Collection from the last 20 years.
02.06.2017 – 10.09.2017
Astrup Fearnley Museet
Ai Weiwei, Cai Guo-Qiang, Cao Fei, Chu Yun, Duan Jianyu, Hu Xiangqian, Huang Yong Ping, Kan Xuan, Liu Chuang, Liu Wei, Lu Chunsheng, Madein Company, Pak Sheung Chuen, Qui Anxiong, Sun Xun, Xu Zhen, Xue Tao, Yang Fudong, Zhang Ding, Zhang Huan, Zhou Tao og Zhou Zixi.
Curators: Gunnar B. Kvaran og Therese Möllenhoff