Ai Wei Wei at The Royal Academy

To take over the converted halls of the Royal Academy of Art you have to be a special kind of artist, one that not only creates astonishing, conversation-making artwork but are famous as individuals in their own right.

Ai Weiwei’s fame as an activist has frequently come between the man and his work, in his home country of China and beyond, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. WeiWei uses a wide range of different materials in surprising ways, subverting their decorative properties to make wider political points.

I couldn’t help but be drawn to the beauty of the marble with which he has intricately carved details from a park. A push chair and CCTV camera feature amongst other objects, with the centre piece in the room a construction featuring hundreds of blades of marble ‘grass’.

(Image courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio. © Ai Weiwei.)
A marble carving is a beautiful art object, showcasing the natural quality of the stone paired with the unique skills of its creator, but Weiwei’s selection of the pure white stone is a subversion of its qualities. Whilst marble is usually synonymous with luxury, Wei Wei has used it to create items that are artificial, ugly or mundane, going beyond the purely aesthetic to provoke deeper thought.

 

Ai Weiwei's 'Trees'

Skilled craftsmanship has also been applied to many other materials in the exhibition, such as creating delicate fragments of bone from fine porcelain in Remains (2015) Or in crafting long dead driftwood to painstakingly reconstruct trees into ‘living’ forms in Tree (2009-10). By using traditional crafts and fine art skills to give a physicality to his political statements, Weiwei is bringing together and uniting the traditional with the contemporary, creating art pieces which are unique and beautiful and In doing so, subverting the Westernised concept of China as the batch-production ‘workshop of the world’.

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy runs until Sunday 13th December.

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