As my last Venice image, I give you one of the dioramas from Ai Weiwei’s new Biennale project, which he was not permitted to see installed. Six metal shipping containers, looking like huge minimal sculptures made of Cor-Ten steel, contain waxworks scenes based on Ai’s memories of his jailing by Chinese authorities in 2011. Each one is sculpted at half of life size, and can be viewed through a porthole in the container’s side and its top. This view from on high shows Ai showering as his inquisitors look on, as they did whenever he did anything, however intimate. It’s important that Ai keep making art about his plight, and the plight of the other persecutees of China. There was, however, something just a touch in bad taste in his taking on a martyr’s role (the piece is called S.A.C.R.E.D., an acronym for the titles of the dioramas: Supper, Accusers, Cleansing, Ritual, Entropy, Doubt). After all, he still commands the resources to have such posh objets manufactured, to have them shipped to Venice and then to have them installed … in a Baroque church no less. Is he trying to pass, camel-like, through the eye of a needle? We must remember, and he must remind us, that he stands for the plight of others who fare much, much worse.
Weirdly, I had a feeling that Ai’s tongue might be in his cheek with this piece – as it usually is.
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