Ai Weiwei @ Lisson

In the latest issue of Dazed and Confused, Ai Weiwei is quoted as saying: If anyone thinks art if safe, they don’t understand art. Art is dangerous.’

Weiwei is arguably the most famous Chinese artist in the western world, being famous not only for his artwork but also for his political activism. The artist has repeatedly been in trouble with the Chinese authorities, having been arrested multiple times and is now currently under house arrest. However, despite being unable to leave his own home, new work is still being displayed at the Lisson Gallery.

The viewer is first presented with a serious of identical bicycle frames attached to one another into giant structures. I managed to count fifteen bicycles in the largest structure entitled Forever, however, there may have been more as it was difficult to count. Until the recent rise of the use of the motor car in China, bicycles had been the most popular mode of transport in the country. The mass produced frames are said to be a symbol of both Chinese culture and the artist’s childhood. Perhaps by transforming the bikes into a bigger structure, Ai is trying to draw attention to a fundamental part of Chinese society that is being threatened by industrialisation.

Also on display are items carved out of marble, including a gas mask, two arm chairs and traditional Chinese lanterns. China is said to be famous for marble with the gas masks being a symbol of pollution. The armchair is thought to be a copy of Ai’s fathers favourite armchair, perhaps made as a memorial, and also a reminder that his father too suffered in political exile. Items are also made out of jade, including cosmetics and a pair of handcuffs, maybe a comment on contemporary Chinese politics.

Downstairs is filled with a gallery of photographs of famous landmarks across the globe from the Louvre to the Palace of Westminster with someone sticking their middle finger up in front of them. In the next room is a film shot from the back of a taxi showing drivers explaining how they were forced to remove all window winders in order to stop activists from giving out leaflets. The drivers faces are hidden to protect their identity and the viewer can sense the danger and uneasiness felt in the video. The film is accompanied by Weiwei’s own taxi window cranks.

This show reminds the viewer of the political climate in China whilst also showing the conceptual work by one of the nation’s best artists. Not to be missed.

Ai Weiwei is on display at Lisson Gallery until 19 July

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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