Ai Weiwei, Recording A Surveilled Life

Ai Weiwei Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn 1995 - Jeu de Paume

© Ai Weiwei Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn 1995

The Ai Weiwei exhibit “Interlacing” (“Entrelacs” in French) is upstairs at the Jeu de Paume until April 29. “Ai Weiwei is an architect, conceptual artist, sculptor, photographer, blogger, Twitterer, interview artist and political activist; a sensitive observer of current topics and social issues.” He is also a thorn in the side of the Chinese authorities.

Petit Journal – Ai Weiwei – Jeu de Paume in English. The video on the Jeu de Paume Website is in English. I hope it remains visible to explain this observant and observed individual.

Ai Weiwei left China for New York in 1983. The exhibition follows his career from 1983 through 2011.

His photographs show a dark side to life even if the colors are bright. One of the most troubling series of photographs to me is an example of construction and destruction. At the request of the Shanghai government, he designed and built an arts and cultural building. He was working in Beijing and under constant surveillance. Reluctantly, he supervised this two-year Shanghai project, occasionally visiting the site (while under surveillance). In August 2010 work finished on the building, and the government decided it was an illegal building. His photographs show the progress, the completion and the demolition. Without his recording of the event, no one would have believed it had existed. All trace disappeared; it was back to being a farmer’s field next to a pond.

This is the “first important exhibition in France devoted to the prolific, iconoclastic and provocative work of this major figure in the independent Chinese art scene…”. It follows a chronological order with New York Photographs, 1983-1993; Beijing Photographs, 1993-2002; Provisional Landscapes, 2002-2008, etc. Ai Weiwei keeps photographic records of everything. He has realized that if he doesn’t record the event with even his cell phone, the event may disappear without a trace, even if it is an earthquake or a moment in the elevator.

Stade olympique 2005-2008 Ai Weiwei Jeu de Paume, Paris

Stade olympique 2005-2008 Ai Weiwei Tirage C-print. © Ai Weiwei

One of Mr. Weiwei’s architectural talents is preserved as a stadium. He was part of a joint venture to design the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics: Bird’s Nest, 2005-2008. This work and more including his blog quotes and photographs (much of which the Chinese police seized while he was in detention), cell phone photographs, perspectives and the 2008 earthquake investigation are on display.

In the “Study of Perspective 1995-2010” are photographs of Ai Weiwei “giving the finger” in front of national monuments and buildings. The recorded history of this gesture goes back 2,500 years. Listen to the history on National Public Radio’s (NPR’s) story: Flipping ‘The Bird’ Just Isn’t Obscene Anymore, Law Professor Argues.”

Jeu de Paume – Concorde
1 Place de la Concorde 75008 Paris
access via the Tuileries Gardens, rue de Rivoli entrance
Open: Tuesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Closed Monday

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