The tragic reality of today is reflected
in the true plight of our cultural existence:
we are spineless and cannot stand straight.
- Ai Weiwei
I went to the Indianapolis Museum of Art on Saturday
to see According to What?, a touring exhibition
of work by international artist Ai Weiwei.
I became aware of the artist through his role in the design of
the "Bird's Nest" stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympic
Games and, more recently, when he was detained
by the Chinese government in 2011 without any charges filed
(after two months it was alleged he'd committed
"economic crimes," (i.e., not paying his taxes.)
Ai Weiwei uses his considerable artistic skills
as a vehicle to express his dissatisfaction with the
Chinese government's practices involving
democracy and human rights.
I had read about and seen photos of a number of his
works, but I found myself surprisingly moved by
Straight: Steel Rebar 2008-2012 (38 Tons), which was
created in reaction to the deaths of an estimated
5,000 children in shoddily constructed school buildings
during the 2008 Sichwan earthquake.
His support of the Citizens' Investigation aimed to compile
a list of the casualties at the schools. A copy of that
list is posted on the gallery wall and, to date,
shows the names of well over 5,700 names of
dead and/or missing children.
Ai Weiwei and his associates were able to obtain
over 150 tons of twisted rebar from the schools,
which they have been able to straighten to near
pristine shape and used to create works to
commemorate the children.
Thirty-eight tons of recycled steel has been used
for this particular installation. Each piece was hammered
approximately 200 times in order to straighten it.
Lying in such order, the jagged lengths reminded me
of seismic graphs showing tremors that
brought the buildings down onto the unsuspecting
children and their teachers.