Saturday, February 9, 2013

Oh China...

I have a secret confession to make: I really want to go to China.

For a few years I avoided buying anything that was made in China because of their horrible human rights violations and because I hated the idea of supporting the country that will in all likelihood start World War III.

But I am so fascinated by China! I want to go to their temples, I want to do a long distance trek on the Great Wall, I want to see adorable children eating chicken feet soup and bugs on a stick. I love to hate them, I love to love them, I love it when their corrupt government officials say crazy things and assume that the rest of the world will gobble up their propaganda just like their own beaten-down people do. And I love it when the government has a tizzy fit when anyone dares to question them. Of course this is a serious matter and is nothing to joke about, but sometimes when things are that awful, it makes sense to laugh just a little.

Change will come, sooner or later, for better or worse. And like wanting to see the old Cuba, I really want to see China in all its glory and polluted horribleness before it changes so I can  help it move along and truly celebrate it when it happens.

Last week I visited the "Ai Weiwei: According To What?" exhibition at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum of Contemporary Art. It was incredible. And it made me even more intrigued.

Oh Ai Weiwei... so lovable! Why must China be so mean to him?

Ai Weiwei is the Chinese artist/visionary/prankster/dissident who went from the "darling" who helped design and build their Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium to a "person of suspicious intent" who finally did enough to piss off the government and earned himself a place on the "Not Allowed To Leave China" list. He gets hassled all the time, is under constant surveillance, and still continues to produce amazing pieces. His work is fascinating and seems to make the communists VERY uncomfortable. My favorite recent stunt he pulled was to voluntarily put up a camera in his own house to broadcast himself on the internet to protest the Chinese government's 24-hour surveillance of  his activites. Oh they hated that so much! Nice work Ai Weiwei.

He loves to take ordinary items and turn them into art, he questions the preciousness and value of ancient artifacts and newer consumer-driven pop culture, and he's constantly playing with the boundaries of art and activism.

Without further adieu, here are a few of my favorites from the exhibition:

Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, installed outside 

Beijing's 2008 Olympic Stadium in photos plastered all over floor, ceiling and walls 

 Ancient wooden stools turned into a sculpture called, "Grapes"

 Teahouses made out of compressed tea leaves (it smelled amazing!)

 Huge wooden boxes made out of chests and lined up to represent the phases of the moon when you peer through the holes in the center

 Dropping an ancient vase

 River Crabs description

 River Crabs sculpture

 Rebar salvaged from the Sichuan earthquake rubble, straightened and arranged as a reminder of the corruption that allowed shoddy construction to go forward and ultimately cost thousands of people their lives when the buildings collapsed. The 2008 earthquake happened in the Sichuan province of China, and killed an estimated 68,000 people.

 Serpent on the ceiling made from kids' backpacks, dedicated to the 5,000 school kids that died in the earthquake

Light Cube - a huge box made with strings of amber crystals lit from behind

The Hirshhorn Museum itself was super cool too and had some other neat exhibitions and installations.


  1. I would love to see an Ai Wei Wei exhibit - he is incredible. I think one of my favorite exhibits that I had heard of was something like a million hand painted porcelain sunflower seeds scattered on the ground that were meant to be walked over. It, of course, was a commentary on Mao's vision of China. Then there was a recent video remake of Gangnam Style. Actually, aside from seeing his art personally, I'd love to meet the guy.

    1. I know! I would love to meet him as well. Such a character, such a genuine person it seems from watching his interviews. I've seen photos of that sunflower seed piece, looks amazing.