His name was Wang Fei.
He was 7 years old in 2008. His was the name that leapt at me because I could read the Chinese spelling of his name.
I think his name can be translated to mean, ‘the Emperor of Flight’. The tragic irony of his name is searing.
Straight– ” a gesture of remembering”.
It is impossible to look at Ai Weiwei’s work and hold back tears.
The little Emperor of Flight wasn’t the only child who perished that fateful day in 2008, Szechuan. There were so many of them.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei responded by creating the above installation work, Straight– from salvaged materials of the fallen buildings. The political implications of this work are many. There was talk that the children would not have been lost, had those responsible for construction built in a more responsible manner. Straight was a collective effort, a community trying to heal, as many hands helped assemble the work. In so doing, Ai Weiwei was perhaps offering, an alternative expression of the term, the “people’s power”.
He also responded by speaking with the surviving parents and families of the lost children. He wanted to help unearth all their names, a herculean task in the face of bureaucracy and corruption.
He Xie (Crabs)
The art comes vividly alive because I get to walk under, walk through, walk around.
Cao (Grass)- also a pun on the Chinese pronunciation of “cao” (fuck off).
I love this work. Again, the act of re-purposing salvaged materials is performed. Bed can also be read as a map of China, unfolding.
It reminded me so much of another very important contemporary Chinese artist, Shen Wei. In 1995, when Shen Wei was finally allowed out of China, he too made a dance inspired by the bed, for the American Dance Festival. I remember him telling me why, bed.
Wo man zhai chuan shang chu seng, xiew xi, xiu jiao, zhuo ai. Wo man ye zhai chuan shang, shi.
(Crude translation- We are birthed, we rest, we sleep, make love, and die in bed.)
Other images that linger- Ai Weiwei dropping the traditional urn, his face, deliberately impassive,
Dust to Dust– playful, with a tongue-in-cheek element.
And then, the frank and detailed reenactment of his imprisonment and psychological torture.
I noticed a pencil on the floor by the left foot of the interrogator.
As he was being tormented, Ai Weiwei, memorised everything about his environment. The rooms for instance, had walls and furniture wrapped in plastic.
Yesterday, I encountered, Seurat.
This morning’s encounter however, left me extremely humbled, and quite without breath.
Ai Weiwei is unafraid, truthful, provocative. Never Sorry!
Don’t retreat, re-tweet!
His absolute faith and dedication to art, to the pursuit and expression of freedom, and what it means to be human, is for me, a voice we especially need, today.
- Ai Weiwei, Royal Academy of Art, September 19-December 13 2015