This installation was a big inspiration in the final outcome of my publication after seeing the piece exhibited in the Royal Academy of Arts during the Ai Wei Wei exhibition.
Six-part work composed of six dioramas – Supper, Accusers, Cleansing, Ritual, Entropy, Doubt – in fibreglass, iron, oxidized metal, wood, polystyrene, sticky tape, each 377 x 198 x 153 cm. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio and Lisson Gallery.
His experiences while being detained are the subject of S.A.C.R.E.D (2011-13, pictured below). This work appears as six shoulder-height iron cuboids, as if a paean to austere Minimalism. But through apertures, one can see dioramas inside each cuboid that stage different situations that Ai had to endure. The artist and his guards are replicated in fibreglass, in miniature. “One reason why the outsides of these boxes are minimal is that Ai never saw the place outside the room in which he was imprisoned – he only saw the inside,” explains Hilty. “He saw the room in hyper-detail and remembered it, as the room was the nature of his existence during those 81 days. Recreating that detail six times, but to have the outside empty, is a powerful psychological statement.”
“Some young people in China are willing to sacrifice freedoms for prosperity,” suggests Locke. “The country’s boom has given access to jobs, apartments, restaurants, holidays and so on, and they see censorship and other injustices as a quid pro quo. In that context, Ai might seem a bit of a maverick. They might think, ‘We’re living so much better than our parents did.’ But then there are many others who see him as someone who can represent them when they can’t represent themselves, someone who has the audacity, confidence and international profile to challenge the status quo on their behalf.”