On the Radar Ai Weiwei
11th May 2011

Ai Weiwei

Words Zoe Hodge

Photography Marcus Brewer

At Somerset House and The Lisson Gallery

12 May - 26 June 2011 - Somerset House
13 May - 16 July 2011 - The Lisson Gallery

The opening of Ai Wei Wei’s latest exhibition, a courageous and outspoken artist and contemporary sculptor, conincides poignantly with his conspicuous absence. Since his controversial arrest on the 3rd of April at Beijing airport nothing has been heard of Ai Wei Wei, who has been denied contact with his lawyer and family members.

Admist the growing concern for his safety two exhibitions of his work are unveiled this week as the Tate Modern finishes his interactive display of Sunflower Seeds in the Turbine Hall. Somerset House today begins a showcase of his Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads in its courtyard and the Lisson Gallery also begins to exhibit some of his key works created over the past six years from Friday 13th May.
Ai Weiwei at The Lisson Gallery

The historic grounds and vast space of Somerset House play host to an extraordinary collection of bronze animal heads created by Ai Weiwei mirroring his fascination with Chinese history, art and Zodiac signs. He wanted to create an accessible installation which would attract a large audience, this will no doubt be enhanced further still by the controversy surrounding his arrest and consequential disappearance.

These pieces are enormous reinterpretations of the symbolic Chinese zodiac signs traditionally used to decorate an imperial retreat in Beijing, the Fountain Clock of Yuaaming Yuan (or the Garden of Perfect Brightness). Just as star signs in astrology play a part in Western culture the zodiac signs within astrology play an important part in Eastern culture where the belief is that everyone is assigned a zodiac sign at birth and this effects their personality and even destiny.

As well as a sculpture Ai Weiwei is also active in architecture; curating, photography, film, and social and cultural criticism as well as openly and objectively speaking of his dissatisfaction of governmental policies. It is this freedom of speech, not tolerated by Chinese government, that has perhaps led directly to his arrest. The American and European Art circles have petitioned for his release and anxiously hope for his return.

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Read about Anish Kapoor’s call to the art world to unite against ‘barbaric' China