The exhibition “Disposition” by Ai Weiwei, a collateral event of the 55th Venice Biennale, is composed of two major projects created for Zuecca Project Space, Venice. The two projects are presented in separate locations across Venice: Straight, a site specific installation with documentary video, already presented at the artist’s retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. in 2012 and revised for the Zuecca Project Space inside Le Zitelle complex, Giudecca, and S.A.C.R.E.D. at the Sant’ Antonin Church, San Marco.
Straight is the result of Ai Weiwei Studio’s research conducted in the wake of the terrible earthquake that struck the Wenchuan area, Sichuan province, in May 2008. The study involved private citizens and parents working as volunteers to obtain information (secretly and illegally).
The documentary video in the exhibition space shows the whole process that the artist undertook to create the installation. The video contains moving images of the location of the catastrophe and of the hard working individuals that collected the iron bars from the dangerous ruined zones.
The findings made with this research made it possible to document the deaths of 5196 children, caused by the collapse of schools constructed with unsuitable materials and without compliance with safety standards.
The collapsed structures have been defined as “tofu-dreg buildings”, as they were built with inappropriate materials that yielded during the earthquake. The first concrete gesture by the artist was to make a list of all the dead children, as tribute paid to the victims.
It took two years to salvage the reinforcement bars from the collapsed buildings and the rubble of the schools, to bring them to Ai Weiwei’s studio in Beijing and to straighten them from their unlikely shapes in which they were bent by the force of the earthquake.
“This gesture is charged with symbolic value, showing us the artist’s ability to create a profound connection with the social and economic [and political] issues of contemporary China,” says curator Maurizio Bortolotti.
The arrangement of the bars in the space creates a minimalist landscape, that upon closer inspection reveals a meticulous organisation, evoking a sense of calm in contrast with the tragedy that is their source.
Looking at the installation from various perspectives, it is possible to see emulated cracks, as if the earth was split by the earthquake, waves in the shape of the installation that evoke the undulating shifts and movements caused by the natural forces of the event.
“The work of Ai Weiwei helps us understand how art can be truly a central form of expression for contemporary life today. How it can cross over all sectors and all fields of public life to represent the society or certain key moments interpreting the transformations happening in contemporary China, and their tragic consequences.”
(Curator Maurizio Bortolotti)
Click on the image below to read about S.A.C.R.E.D., the second project in “Disposition”.
All Photographs: “Disposition” by Ai Weiwei, Zuecca Project Space, ‘Straight’ at Le Zitelle Complex, Giudecca and ‘S.A.C.R.E.D.’ at Chiesa di Sant’Antonin, San Marco (last image only), Collateral event of the 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia. Photos: C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia.