According to What: Ai Weiwei exhibit in DC
This weekend we went to the opening of the Ai Weiwei exhibit, According to What, at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum with some friends. If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend you check it out before it closes in February. You might have seen the occasional news story about Ai Weiwei in the last few years. He’s very outspoken and has taken on some pretty controversial topics in China.
The exhibit includes both photography and sculpture. When you enter the exhibit, the walls, floor and ceiling are plastered with photos of the construction of the Olympic “Birds Nest” stadium in Beijing. The images are cold, industrial, and beautiful in their own way, much like Burtynsky’s photos of construction sites and oil fields.
The exhibit also had several pieces related to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. One was a massive snake hanging from the ceiling that wove through several rooms. At first it looked like it was made from paper or fabric to look like a Chinese dragon. But as you looked closer, it was made from hundreds and hundreds of green and gray children’s school backpacks. In another room, a massive wall listed every school-aged child that died in the earthquake. An audio in the background read each child’s name aloud. Another impressive piece looked like a topographical map on the floor with mountains and ridges all made up of copper-colored bars. The whole piece is actually made of rebar salvaged from the rubble of the quake.
There were definitely some lighter pieces too – it wasn’t all earthquakes and urban wastelands. But even some of those pieces had some sort of commentary. For example, a real ancient piece of Chinese pottery on which the artist had painted a silver Coca-Cola logo.
On a cold and rainy weekend, it was a great indoor activity that caught my imagination.