Ai WeiWei in the Chapel
Imagine a quiet chapel, filled with beautifully crafted hand-made slightly old-fashioned wooden chairs. At first they look the same. Then they don’t. Add to this some evocative poetry written by his father, being recited. Or you may read it yourself between recitals. It is an 18th century chapel, newly refurbished in the grounds of Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Ai Weiwei designed this ‘sculpture’ but will never see it, for he is under house arrest in China. I sat on one of the chairs – it was strange being permitted to enter into this hallowed space and to participate in a sculpture.
Fairytale – 1001 Chairs consists of 45 antique Chinese chairs dating from the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), each one different and yet arranged so uniformly in nine orderly rows in the nave, each chair occupying an identical, rigorously-defined space so that they seem to lose their individuality. And this is exactly Ai Weiwei’s point.
Unable to travel to Yorkshire, and working from plans and photographs of the chapel, Ai selected 45 chairs from a project displayed in Kassel in 2007 for which he brought (metaphorically) 1001 Chinese citizens to Kassel for 20 days, representing each person (otherwise unable to travel outside China) with an antique chair.
Here is his tree made from found bits and pieces of wood. Ai-Weiwei is one of the important 21stC sculptors and I am pleased to have “made his acquaintance” through such powerful work.
Ai WeiWei is best known in the UK for filling the turbine room at the Tate in 2010 with 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds, each one hand painted and kiln-fired by inhabitants of Jingdezhen, the ‘porcelain capital’ of his native China.