Enclosed space

I read that the Qing dynasty lasted around three centuries and established the boundaries enclosing the multicultural peoples who now comprise the modern Chinese state.  Ai Weiwei‘s installation “Fragments” recycles hardwood pillars from Qing dynasty temples into branching interlacing and interlocking structures.  Apparently, viewed from above, it maps the territories of modern China.  Walking through it, it retains the sense of the sacred space, but opened out, regaining the feel of the forest that gave the wood.  I felt small, like a child weaving in a game beneath arches made of adults’ arms.  Stepping back and stretching up, I tried to draw the negative spaces made by the conjoined beams.

2015-10-1 Ai Weiwei Fragments (9)

2015-10-1 Ai Weiwei Fragments (6)

I worked in the exhibition hall in a small pocket book with fountain pen and waterbrush.  Later, I dusted this with conte crayon to recreate some of the colours.  These were the original sketches.

2015-10-1 Ai Weiwei Fragments (2)    2015-10-1 Ai Weiwei Fragments (4)

“Straight” too is a map of sorts, a landscape created from thousands of iron bars reclaimed from the twisted ruins of buildings that collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.  Walking round did indeed feel like taking a journey.  The contours mount successively to form hills with precipitous cliffs between one terrain and another.  Then, turning the far corners and walking down the other side, the piece sweeps down and broadens like a costal plain or wide river estuary.  My quick sketch does not capture the majesty of the work: as I started someone stood in front of me and I found myself incorporating her into the sketch, breaking the lines and reducing the sense of scale.

2015-10-16 Ai Weiwei Straight (2)

Round the walls are great panels documenting the 5000 or so predominantly young people who died in this quake, and who otherwise might have been forgotten.  The exhibition notes describe that Ai Weiwei’s team undertook a citizen’s investigation to systematically name the deceased and to call to account the officials whose actions led to the use of poor quality building materials in schools in this seismically unstable region.

Apparently, it was in response to this that Ai Weiwei was imprisoned for 81 days in 2011.  He memorised every detail of his cell, recreating these as six half life size dioramas, a piece called “S.A.C.R.E.D.”.   As voyeurs, we peer in through the two tiny cell windows to see him within – to see him standing, walking, sleeping, showering, shitting – at all times flanked by two officers, impassive, intensely not communicating, positioned always just within his personal space, dogging his every move.

2015-10-16 Ai Weiwei S.A.C.R.E.D (2)  2015-10-16 Ai Weiwei S.A.C.R.E.D (1)

This one view, of Ai Weiwei lying covered with a sheet, triangulated by the two immobile guards is intensely powerful.  It calls to mind the emotionally intense vigil of the fourteenth station, the motionless figure on the slab draped with a cloth, the watchers and the enclosed space of the stone tomb.

File 18-10-2015, 13 41 11





13 responses to “Enclosed space

    • Thanks
      This is a lot of why I draw. How do I respond to an exhibition like this? I walk round like everyone else, look, read the explanations. But it’s all so fleeting. It’s by drawing (and to some extent by writing) that I take in and make something of what I have seen. Drawing helps me to integrate the experience.
      So thanks for looking at my sketches and commenting – that too helps me reflect on my experience.

    • Hi Rose
      I sort of agree, but I can see this may be different between us – for example you live as an artist and that I guess gives you insight different to me. I know too little of Ai Weiwei (I even keep mispronouncing his name) and live such a different life that I cannot claim that my drawing his work helps me see with his eyes. However, drawing really does help me to see his work with my eyes. It makes me pay attention. I find it remarkable that so few people draw in exhibitions. I am curious how all the others in the gallery make sense of the work and what they take away from it. In some ways, making sense of other’s responses might be an art work in itself!

      • Any work of art exists in the space between the artist and the viewer, just as a piece of music exists in the space between the performer and the listener. Each of us brings ourself to the interpretation of the work and so the work will be different depending on who is viewing it. Once an artist puts a work of art into the public domain, it’s like a child leaving home. You have something of yourself in it but then it becomes something else in it’s own right and that depends on who is seeing it and what they make of it. Does that make any sense?

      • I agree wholly.
        My point was a smaller one and does not contradict you. Each of our responses are different of course. I guessed that your response might be shaped more than mine by your being a full time practising artist yourself, so that, as you say, drawing in exhibition brings you closer to the exhibiting artist. I wonder whether you have greater empathy with the other artist than most of us would. I am still working out what drawing in an exhibition does for me. It’s almost more basic than that, it’s that I have experienced the exhibition at all, rather than it being just another fleeting thing I did, gone from my memory in moments. Drawing forces me reflect and internalise, to slow down.
        There is a wealth of interesting thoughts that come from your short commentary on the nature of art. Thanks for posting it here.

    • Hi Jo
      I hope you are well
      Thanks for the comment.
      The photo is of a tomb in the Etruscan necropolis near Populonia in Tuscany. I used the panorama function on my iPhone, rotating it steadily to capture the scene from the trees down to the entrance to the tomb below my feet.

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