On the table Ai Wei Wei

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  • Retrato de Ai Wei Wei
  • He Xie 2011. Ai Wei Wei
  • Map of China. Ai Wei Wei
  • Cao. Ai Wei Wei
  • Tian an men. Ai Wei Wei

Tuesday was the opening of the exhibition On the table. Ai Wei Wei in Barcelona. If you like to enjoy an exhibition with calm, you will know full well that the opening is the worst time to do it.

That day is for other things: to be seen, to analyze the environment, to be surprised by the high number of men with horn-rimmed glasses that are in this country and women with red lipstick, and then have a glass of champagne (or juice in our case) while, perhaps, a modern disc jockey plays music.

Sometimes you are lucky enough and the artist is present and it is time to meet him, listen what he has to tell us about his work (or what says the curator) and to assess whether their proposal moves us or we do not understand it. Unfortunately we could’nt enjoy this last part, for obvious reasons.

Ai Wei Wei, the juggler of freedom

If you know the work of Ai Wei Wei you will know that is a wizard of dissent, a juggler of freedom and censorship. Currently under house arrest, his work is characterized by the complaint, claim and his deep commitment to political and social reality of China.

Ai Wei Wei exhibition allows us to approach their work through over 40 photographs, books, audiovisual installations and models. During the opening we followed a litany of men in suits murmuring: “This will be the show of the year.” Maybe, but we can’t get enough of it. The Chambers of the Palacio de la Virreina only have a small sample of his projects and installations.

For example, the major exhibition at Tate Modern, Sunflower Seeds, which turned the Turbine Hall into a sea of seed pipes which visitors were invited to walk, Barcelona has just reached us a little mound caged in a glass case.

For this occasion hundreds of artisans produced 150 tons of pipes in Jingdeshen, the capital of porcelain. An object that perhaps do not tell us much, but in China evokes the posters of the Cultural Revolution in which Mao was depicted as the sun and the people as sunflowers turned toward him. Thus Ai Wei Wei invited us to reflect on the power of the individual (a pipe) to the community

Games equivocal

One syllable. Five possibilities of pronunciation. Five meanings. Chinese is a language that lends itself to puns. This weapon has been used since time immemorial by dissidents, creators and artists to achieve double meanings.

Ai Wei Wei has joined this long tradition in many of his performances and installations. Precisely one of the most beautiful works in the exhibition in Barcelona is Cao: a carpet of grass with white marble with gray veins. In it, the artist invites us to play through the double meaning of the word “CAO”, grass, and almost homophone “CAO” fuck.

He had done before, in 2010, when the government called for demolishing his studio in Shanghai. Ai Wei Wei held a party to celebrate it and, despite his ban, thousands of people participated. During the celebration 10,000 crayfish were served in a new gesture of provocation: crab, hexie, refers to another word with a very different meaning, harmony. The number, again, also had a symbolic meaning: it was the usual figure in political slogans during Maoism proclamations traversed the city. “Chairman Mao will live 10,000 years!”

Social commitment

The exhibition also includes examples of clear social commitment of Ai Wei Wei with environmental issues and the fight against corruption. In 2008 an earthquake devastated Sichuan province. Old buildings withstood the ravages of the earthquake while hundreds of schools were reduced to rubble due to corruption and bad materials used in its construction.

Ai Wei Wei then began a research effort to prevent the government may silence the death of thousands of children. Together with a team of volunteers managed to compile a list with the names of the 5,196 dead and a documentary, Box Your Ears. The photographs of the disaster, audiovisual and the protest letters sent to the government are some of the pieces that can be seen in La Virreina.

But there is more, much more. They are photographs of his early years in New York, some altered objects as Suitcase for Bachelor or One Man-Shoe, or the sculpture Map of China made of wood from the Qing Dynasty temples.

If you want to discover, the exposure, Ai Wei Wei On the table will be shown in La Virreina until February 1, 2015.