Saturday, June 8, 2013
Ai Weiwei's "According to What" (currently at the Indianapolis Museum of Art) is pure perfection. There's an Apple Store consumerist clarity to the whole thing, a clean, sleek fetishism that somehow becomes spiritual in its carefulness. Weiwei is obviously a perfectionist, a craftsman, and a genius. His story is told of course in the show because it has to be. He's currently unable to leave China because of who he is and what he's done as an activist and political prisoner. However, that biography of activism and humanitarianism is not the biography Weiwei seems to want us to focus on. In corresponding interviews and quotes throughout the show, he tries to reconfigure, even apologize for, his activism, for the sake of having people see and think about his art without the gloss and crutches of heroism. It's the objects he makes that transcend biography and sanctity and even thought. They are inscrutable, somehow cosmic, and just plain gorgeous. The prime example is this flourish of rusty rebar pictured above. The back-story is horrendous: hundreds of Chinese school-children were killed in a 2008 earthquake. The school buildings the children were in were made on the cheap, increasing the death toll. The Chinese government has tried to cover up all of this, but Weiwei uses his visual intelligence as both testimony and transcendence. The walls surrouding the rebar are covered in the school-children names. The rebar used in the construction of the demolished buildings has been systemically hammered and stretched back into original longitudes, and Wewei arranges them in the gallery to mimic Seismographic readouts, oceans waves, governmental graphs, piano strings, rust-red lines of consciousness merging into amnesia...
There's nothing you can say or do in response to what he's done here except thank him for this proverb of both profundity and disruption. When I walked around and stared at this installation I felt like I was leaving my body. Art often can't get past itself, its own meanings and histories and languages, but here it has. Weiwei has found a way to escape aesthetics through being an aesthete. His focus provides relief from confrontation while his technique and style confront and confound. He has created a place of pilgrimage. And in the background there's a recorded voice saying each of the dead school-children's names. Weiwei is not a preacher here. He is an artist giving us an image and a moment that stretch out into eternity.