For his third exhibition at Lisson Gallery London and following his acclaimed exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2015, Ai Weiwei returns to the United Kingdom with two installations that promote discussion and dialogue. The works illustrate Ai’s standing as one of them most important contemporary artists working today but also his use of social media and new technology to advocate for social and political justice.
Ai Weiwei’s immersive work Fondation (2015) made its debut as part of ‘Brève histoire de l’avenir (A Brief History of the Future)’ at the Louvre in Paris last year and was recently on view as part of the group exhibition ‘The Silent Echo’, the first contemporary art exhibition to be held at the sprawling archaeological site of Baalbek in Lebanon. On display for the first time in the United Kingdom at Lisson Gallery, Fondation makes use of stone foundations from centuries-old Chinese halls, from which column bases have been extracted and assembled in a monumental grid-like formation that sprawls over eight metres of gallery space.
Intended as a contemporary equivalent to the Greek agora, a public place of assembly and discussion, visitors are invited to sit upon the bases of the pillars and reflect on the future. The historical aesthetic of the work is also a metaphor for Ai Weiwei’s use of social media as a platform to engage international audiences on salient issues irrespective of time and place. The installation will be used as an actual site for dialogue and debate as part of a performative discussion with leading artists, curators and activists, which will be streamed live on 8 December. The work also references an ongoing motif in the artist’s work, the lamentation of destruction in the name of progress, which is evident in his new series of cast-iron root and branches on display at Lisson Gallery New York from 5 November until 23 December 2016.
Fondation is shown alongside 258 Fake (2011), an installation of 12 monitors that display a total of 7,677 rapidly changing photographs. With imagery created solely through the use of smartphones, the work highlights the tension between fact and fiction, particularly inherent in 21st-century digital photography. A diverse array of images, both inane and deadly serious, confronts the viewer; from the artist giving another man a bowl cut (using an actual bowl) and a wide-eyed cat to pictures of the rubble from Sichuan’s devastating earthquake in 2008. With the sheer number and quick rotation of images, with each monitor changing every four seconds, one’s experience of the work can never be the same. The speed and unique distribution of images reflect both the immediacy and transient experience of social media, while questioning the validity of knowledge generated through digital photography.
Ai Weiwei (b.1957, Beijing, China) lives and works in Beijing and Berlin. He attended Beijing Film Academy and later, on moving to New York (1983–1993), continued his studies at the Parsons School of Design. Major solo exhibitions of his work has been staged at numerous venues around the world, including Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy and Belvedere Museum, Vienna, Austria (2016); Royal Academy, London, UK and Helsinki Art Museum, Finland;
(2015), Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany (2014); Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN, USA (2013); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., USA (2012); Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Tapipei, Taiwan (2011); Tate Modern, London, UK (2010); and Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2009). Architectural collaborations include ‘Genius Loci – Spirit of Place’ at the 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture, Venice, Italy; the 2012 Serpentine Pavilion and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium, with Herzog and de Meuron. In 2008, Ai Weiwei won the lifetime achievement award from the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards, and in 2011, he was awarded the Wall Street Journal Magazine’s ‘Innovator of the Year Award’ and was made Honorary Academician at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. In 2012 he was awarded the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent from the Human Rights Foundation in New York. Most recently in 2015 he was awarded the Ambassador of Conscience Award by Amnesty Internati