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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Tang Contemporary Art Announces the Opening of “Year of the Rat”: The Solo Exhibition for Ai Weiwei

Tang Contemporary Art is proud to announce the opening of “Year of the Rat,” the solo exhibition for Ai Weiwei. Curated by Cui Cancan, this is the artist’s fourth solo exhibition with Tang Contemporary Art, after his solo exhibitions “Ai Weiwei” in Beijing, as well as “Wooden Ball” and “Refutation” in Hong Kong. “Year of the Rat” also marks Ai Weiwei’s first solo exhibition in Thailand.2020 is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese lunar calendar and the gengzi year in this sexagenary cycle. The rat is the first of the twelve zodiac animals.

Historically, gengzi years are far from ordinary. 1840 saw the First Opium War; the ensuing conflicts and changes served as a prelude for further transformation. In 1900, the Boxers burned churches and massacred missionaries and ordinary Christians, and Empress Cixi declared war on the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Austria. By August, the armies of the Eight Nation Alliance had taken Beijing. In 1960, sixty years ago, China was in the midst of a great famine. In that year, the “Rightist” poet Ai Qing was sent down to the Eighth Division of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in Shihezi, and Ai Weiwei lived there with his father for sixteen years.

2020 is another gengzi year. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, Wuhan announced the closure of the city because of a new coronavirus. Several months later, tens of millions of people around the world had contracted Covid-19. In the expanse of human civilization, 60 years is not a long time, but the vast majority of people will only see one such Year of the Rat in their lifetimes.

The Year of the Rat and the gengzi year give Ai Weiwei’s exhibition particular meaning. The ambiguity and suggestions associated with the Year of the Rat move in cycles. In one hundred years, there will be a new experience of time, space, context, and history.

“Year of the Rat” begins with twelve zodiac animal heads, serving as a historical backdrop to the entire exhibition.

This series fuses animal heads and Legos, two of Ai Weiwei’s familiar motifs, which are underpinned by two well-known but decidedly different historical periods. The twelve Lego works are an extension of Ai’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, which were in turn derived from the twelve zodiac heads that once adorned the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan). The originals were looted from Yuanmingyuan in 1860 by French and British forces and subsequently scattered around the world. Several of them have been collected and returned to Beijing.

For Chinese people, these animal heads symbolize one hundred years of humiliation and they continue to activate nationalistic pride and anger.

How did these sculptures, which were created by European Jesuits and presented to a Manchu emperor, come to be a symbol of China? From their complex origins with Manchu, Han, and European people and their looting in war, how did their return become a patriotic act? Ai Weiwei is keenly aware of the political implications, and in replicating these animal heads, grandly displaying them as public works of art in more than forty Western cities, and modeling and mocking this discomfiting part of history, he offers his commentary on memories of this historical period.

Ai Weiwei cuts through history with new temporal methods, connecting different stories and events. In “Year of the Rat,” these twelve animal heads symbolize these 180 years of East and West, provocation and adaptation, advancement and backwardness, glory and humiliation. After several sexagenary cycles, these relationships have continued to infiltrate, change, and percolate with one another, and everything has become complex and murky.

However, in 2020, because of the pandemic, this story has become even more complex and unstable; this is a Year of the Rat with the future out of focus.

Whether the result of a multi-year investigation or a souvenir of a moment, Ai Weiwei creates his own methods and textures in telling stories. Their expression further elevates the subject, and these expressive methods give the story or part of history an extraordinary beauty. They represent keen insights into social consciousness, but they are also perfectly rendered with exquisite craftsmanship. Like Martin Scorsese’s New York or Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, the self, reality, and dreams spiral upward and become commingled.

Ring W and Ring M, rings made of pure gold, are displayed in the center of the gallery. These rings are unique and can be worn by men or women. The images on the ring reflect Ai’s thoughts about feeling trapped and deprived, and about freedom and the ability to determine one’s own existence. The description of the work reads: “The wearable artworks are representative of Ai Weiwei’s sensitivity to the duality of human nature, with its capacity for nurture and kindness on one hand, yet destruction and cruelty on the other. In the center of the ring’s face, depictions of migrants’ stories unfold under a mysterious half-moon: by foot or by sea, some are portrayed travelling together and others alone. Ai Weiwei’s signature symbolism, together with iconic images of contemporary society, provide a dramatic context to their journeys. The strength of these jewels lies in the elegance of the lines, in the purity of the details, and in their ability to empathize with humanity.

The rings were inspired by two ancient civilizations. The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and ancient Greek gold-working techniques were linked to Ai’s research into how civilizations change and how people migrate. Distantly linked to the many changes that the animal heads have witnessed in the last century, Ai Weiwei’s documentary Human Flow records how millions of people became homeless migrants. The project was inspired by his own experience: since his birth, he has moved from the Great Northern Wilderness to Shihezi to Beijing, then on to New York, Berlin, and Cambridge.

The defacing marks on the portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square in May 1989 and the route of a migrant rescue vessel in June 2019 seem to have no relationship to aesthetics. These minimalist, abstract lines convey provocative acts and unforeseen consequences. Countless migrants on the ocean are hovering off the coast, entirely isolated and helpless. It is only when we dive below the surface for information, then bring it to the level of conscious thought, that we see the countless lives within the relationships between history and evidence, stories and forms and that we can uncover what truly happened in history and what that meant.

History is always forgotten, and past suffering is always redeemed. Stories from a specific time and place will disappear, but they show that the form of this historical spirit is actually eternal. Regardless of how important a historical event was, it can never be fully represented; instead, it appears in various versions in different contexts. Incomplete information and chance results become partial fragments devoid of subjectivity in the long road of history. For example, the properties and circumstances of Lego bricks, a medium that Ai Weiwei has long employed, have determined that we must use many bricks and a wider range of thinking and tools to precisely assemble a complete event or history. We must ask: What is it? What happened? Why is it the way it is today?

“Year of the Rat” is the beginning of another cycle, and in ancient legends, it wards off evil, helps determine the auspiciousness of a marriage, and summons the spirits. In the modern vocabulary, it symbolizes the spread of filth, theft, and illness. 2020, a gengzi year, had a longer-than-usual “fourth intercalary month,” so this lunar year had 384 days. In this pandemic, many people have not lived to see the end of the year, and the things they experienced may reverberate in 180 years, turning them into heralds of things to come.

Room 201 – 206, River City Bangkok, 23 Soi Charoenkrung 24, Talad Noi, Sampantawong, Bangkok, 10100, Thailand Tel: +662 000 1541 | Email: bkk@tanggallery.vip | www.tangcontemporary.com

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