Around Ai Weiwei Photographs 1983 – 2016 at Camera Turin

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“In a world of exhibitions, showcasing monumental works, we conceived of this project to expressly redirect the attention of the public to documentary evidence that circumnavigates Ai Weiwei’s life, as a testimonial to his fascinating journey as a man, creator and activist. For most, Ai Weiwei is a global product of Chinese origin,” says the curator Davide Quadrio.
Soft Ground is a reminder of the Tiananmen crisis, which was a pivotal moment in the history of contemporary China.
For over a decade, these events directly affected artists all over the country.
Still today, the event represents a trauma that has not been completely overcome.
Soft Ground is a 45 meter-long carpet with a 1:1 photo reproduction of the traces left behind by tanks on a dirt track to the southwest of Beijing.
The tracks are reminiscent of the traces left behind by the tanks sent into Tiananmen Square during the protest of 1989.
Also featured is Ai Weiwei’s life in New York in a series of photographs entitled New York Photographs 1983-1993; the images are like stills from a black and white film, sequencing a selection of private moments and encounters from over 10,000 pictures that Ai took when he lived in New York, from 1983 to 1993.
The exhibition chronologically develops through thematic chapters. Clustered between the overarching narrative, the two projects Chang’an Boulevard and Beijing: The Second Ring set the scene in the capital of China in the early 2000s.
Also included is a rarely seen interview by Daria Menozzi, entitled Before Ai Wei Wei (1995), in which the artist gives glimpses of his first years back in China following his return from New York.
Upon this photographic stage, highlighting the urbanism and architecture of the times, the exhibition displays Beijing Photographs 1993-2003, a never before seen series of photographs is debuting at the Turin gallery.
The series portrays the life and actions of Ai Weiwei and his entourage just before the process of transformation that turned Beijing into the global city it is today.
The autobiographical storyline of the exhibition is punctuated with a selection of sculptural artworks that mirror the development of Ai Weiwei’s life over four decades.
The last section of the exhibition premieres one of Ai’s latest projects: Refugee Wallpaper, a collage of 17,000 images shot by Ai Weiwei during his ongoing contact with the refugee emergency which is spreading across Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.
This endless series seems designed to make viewers question the implications of the artist’s activism.
“Here the voice of the artist fills the void of the thousands that go unheard,” Davide Quadrio says. “But, at the same time, we bear witness to an obsessive act of voyeurism that triggers feelings of unease.
“Does this grandiose multiplication of records make us see and understand more, or less? Years after his self-portraits series, what remains and what has changed in the artist’s take on self-representation?”
From 28 October 2016 to 12 February 2017

Tom Seymour

Tom Seymour is an Associate Editor at The Art Newspaper and an Associate Lecturer at London College of Communication. His words have been published in The Guardian, The Observer, The New York Times, Financial Times, Wallpaper* and The Telegraph. He has won Writer of the Year and Specialist Writer of the year on three separate occassions at the PPA Awards for his work with The Royal Photographic Society.