Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Wood and IOUs

Remember Ai Weiwei, the Chinese multidisciplinary artist, dissident and activist who was detained for 81 days in 2011 and whose design company was then accused of ‘tax evasion’ and given 15 days to raise a total of some 15M yuan – the equivalent of almost €2M – for back taxes, fines and late payments? An outpouring of donations followed, both online and through more concrete channels such as throwing money over the wall to the yard of his studio in Beijing.

Now, Ai has covered the walls of his exhibition at the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) with IOUs, promissory notes, he issued for each donation as he considered them loans. The work is called I.O.U. Wallpaper and it is truly impressive consisting of 6000 different IOUs that were printed onto sheets mounted on all the walls of the 1500sqm space. Legend has it that Ai received 30,000 individual donations amounting to 9M yuan to help him settle the matter.

Ai Weiwei chose wood as the theme for the Helsinki show it being the material Chinese and Finnish tradition have in common. In our case, two-thirds of the area is covered in forest that our exports depended on for decades in the form of pulp and paper. In the case of China, forests are being destroyed to make way for massive construction, and urbanisation is wiping out traditional crafts such as woodworking. In Helsinki, Ai is bringing these wrongs to the limelight.

The centrepiece is the huge Tree made by bolting together pieces of dead wood collected from the countryside in Southern China.

Another large installations is the White House that is on display for the first time. It is a frame of a Qing dynasty building made of reclaimed wood painted in white, which is the Chinese colour of mourning,

There is also a chandelier several meters high. The recently reopened HAM is located in a building that used to house inside tennis courts allowing such tall structures to be installed indoors unlike at many other museums.

The exhibition spans from the 1980s to the present day also showing some signature features of the artist: small clever works such as those made of metal hangers as well as sculptures and installations utilising traditional handcrafted items, now pieces of furniture. It is characteristic of Ai to employ skilled craftsmen and artisans to create something unique and unconventional out of traditional Chinese objects, materials or methods thus drawing the viewers’ attention to their vanishing exquisite craftsmanship.

Grapes, a cluster of Qing dynasty stools.

The show includes several beautiful works skilfully crafted in wood but carrying a most upsetting reference to a violation of human rights. I didn’t manage to shoot the most tragic ones. However, below is one shocking installation I want to highlight: an architectural project that is showcased in a model in wood. It takes us to Inner Mongolia where a new city called Ordos was being built. The Ordos 100 project, curated by the Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, commissioned 100 renowned architects from 27 countries to design a 1000sqm villa for a new community with a master plan by Ai.

The Ordos 100 has not been completed. The actual city with high-rises, apartment building, duplexes and bungalows plus all the facilities for a million people was constructed but remains practically a ghost city. Can you imagine that? If you cannot just look here and here. I found some criticism that Ai’s master plan for the luxury villas was utopian but it seems to me the whole idea of Ordos must have been out of this world.

Since his detention, Ai Weiwei was banned from leaving the country for four years. His passport was only returned to him last July. He was again free to travel, now according to many as the most celebrated and most influential artist of our time. The publicity around the ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics he designed together with Herzog and de Meuron and many others was nothing compared with the fame his clashes with the government have brought him. I and hubby were first introduced to his art in January 2011 when we happened to see the impressive installation of 100 million painted porcelain sunflower seeds at the Tate Modern in London, only a few months before his detention.

On the left, Map of China made of wood salvaged from Qing dynasty temples.
Ai now lives in Berlin and was able to attend the opening of his recent exhibition in London as well as that in Helsinki. There is a joint show of him and Andy Warhol ongoing at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia (until April 24). Late last year, he started a three-year professorship at the Berlin University of the Arts

One of Ai’s current projects is to create a memorial for the refugees that have lost and will lose their lives when trying to enter Europe. It will be placed on the island of Lesbos in Greece where he will also start a workshop for a few of his students from both Germany and China. Today, a piece of news from Copenhagen tells that Ai closed down his Ruptures exhibition at the Faurschou Foundation in protest of the new immigration law allowing Danish authorities to confiscate cash and valuables from asylum seekers and delaying family reunions. (Such things are happening in Denmark of all places, could you have imagined that?)

The HAM exhibition will be open until the end of February. The London show at the Royal Academy of Arts, on the other hand, closed in late December but was just released online as a virtual tour with video links. The experience will be available for anyone to explore until November 20. I already navigated through the Ai Weiwei 360 once. I hope you will do the same under this link. Here we have a guru with a message worth listening to.

PS. Divina Proportio, the football-shaped sculpture handcrafted out of rare huanghuali tree (above), was bought by the museum for €100,000.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Pink twilight

Further to my two previous posts, there is a 10-minute walk from the shore where we were watching the sun set and slowly fade away in the horizon to where we had parked our car. You will understand our astonishment as we were driving away believing the show was over and suddenly noticed the south-western sky turning all pink.

The evening twilight hour – the time from sunset to when the sun is 6° below the horizon (currently for us some 50 minutes) – may offer pleasant surprises depending on the weather conditions such as the type of cloud cover. We couldn’t but continue to Saaronniemi to admire the deliciously pink sky turn purple and mauve. A week earlier the sunset hour we spent at the location was little more than grey (post here).

I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful natural spectacle. Then again, I might be a bit biased as a hint of blue in any red or vice versa will immediately make the tone irresistible to me. Well, perhaps the Nordic lights might beat this but capturing those will remain beyond this amateur’s reach if not forever at least far into the future.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Sunset on the sea

The next stop on our recent sunset watching tour was the Kuuva cape on the Ruissalo island. The number of photos we took says it all. We were thrilled.

In June, I posted on one of our picnics on this rocky shore (here). In August, we happened to see a regatta south of the tip of the cape (post here). It is hard to decide which season is more beautiful, in pictures that is. I wouldn’t want to live completely without the changing seasons but in the real world I’d vote for a shorter winter season any time. As for the sunset photos, the best is yet to come if you ask me. Just wait for my next post and youll be the judge of that.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Ice cover

A few days ago, we nailed it. It was again some -13°C (9°F). Now the weather was no problem at all. We were wearing our brand-new heavy-duty winter gear when heading to the Ruissalo island for some sunset watching.

Also the timing was perfect and the outcome so rich I am releasing it in portions. Anyone who muddled through my previous post deserves some simple visual delight for a change.

These photos were taken three quarters of an hour or so before sunset at the Ruissalo park which was our first stop on this afternoon tour. We wanted to check whether the waterway had frozen over since our previous visit (here). Now it was for the most part covered in a very thin layer of ice with curvy formations that looked rather fabulous.

There are some quite nice colourful shots coming soon so stay tuned.