“No! it isn’t about creating cute little magnificence items” Ai Weiwei tells The Artwork Newspaper from his house in Lisbon. He’s referring to his monumental glass work The Human Comedy—one of many largest suspended Murano glass sculpture ever created. It’s the centrepiece of a brand new present of 32 new and up to date sculptures by the Chinese language dissident artist, staged in a Sixteenth-century church on the Venetian island of San Giorgio Maggiore.
At round 6 metres lengthy and 9 metres excessive, the large glass sculpture, which resembles a black chandelier, consists of two,000 handblown glass items, together with human skulls, skeletons, inner organs, bones, crabs, bats, and surveillance cameras. Weighing in at 2,700kg, its title references Dante’s epic poem from the 14th century, the Divine Comedy. Although work on the sculpture started earlier than the Covid-19 pandemic, it serves as a tribute to the various lives misplaced throughout this time.
“The theme of the present is demise. The chandelier is made up of skeletons and the bones of people, animals and mystical animals. It is also about humanity” says Ai. “Dying is all the time there accompanying us. However we do not wish to acknowledge it—we have a tendency to think about it as one thing that occurs to different individuals”.
That is the primary time Ai will stage an exhibition of glass works, a medium he’s not well-known for. The present is the results of a three-year collaboration with the Berengo Studio within the Venetian island of Murano, the place a lot of Murano glass has been produced for the previous few centuries.
For 3 many years, the studio, which is helmed by founder Adriano Berengo, has been working with artists from all around the world to grasp initiatives in glass. “Ai has all the time identified the way to subvert and play with energy buildings and this work is not any completely different,” Berengo mentioned in a press release. He started smaller collaborations with the artist when he visited him below home arrest in Beijing.
However it’s not the primary time the 64-year-old artist has labored with glass. “I’m a collector of outdated historic artefacts from China. So I’ve an extended historical past in coping with outdated glasses,” Ai says. Included within the present is his 2009 work Research of Perspective in Glass, a glass sculpture of a hand with its center finger prolonged. “Glass is a cloth that’s fragile and treasured,” the artist says. “In historic Greek tombs, glass was used to make tear bottles which contained the tears that the dwelling shed for the useless.”
The exhibition additionally contains Stays (2015), which resembles an archaeological web site and consists of porcelain reproductions of human bones excavated from the location of a labour camp that operated below Mao Zedong within the late Fifties. “The human bones belong to my father’s era. And there are such a lot of exiled intellectuals that had been simply [left for] useless” Ai says, referencing China’s 1958 Anti-Rightist Marketing campaign, which culminated within the purging of hundreds of intellectuals together with the artist’s father, the well-known poet Ai Qing.
Elsewhere within the exhibition, the sprawling sculpture Glass Root exhibits the foundation system of the traditional Pequi tree, a critically endangered species indigenous to Brazil. The roots had been left over from deforestation and pure causes. In an effort to produce cast-iron replicas, wood sculptures had been moulded. The work has added significance on condition that, Ai’s father, had written a poem about how bushes might talk with one another beneath the earth. From the age of 10, Ai lived in a dugout together with his father.
Reminiscences of his father are central to a different exhibition Ai is concerned with this 12 months. He’s curating a present of works created by prisoners and folks throughout the UK’s legal justice system on the Southbank Centre in London this autumn. “All these works allowed me to try to perceive how individuals behave inside restricted areas due to legal punishment,” he mentioned. The artist says he’s nicely ready given his personal life experiences with the penal system. The artist’s father was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment within the Nineteen Thirties. Ai himself was secret detained for 81 days by Chinese language authorities in 2011.
“Additionally in British jail, I visited Julian Assange, who remains to be in Britain’s most extremely secured jail for no cause however as a political prisoner,” he says. In June, the WikiLeaks co-founder had his extradition from UK to US accepted by the British authorities. If discovered responsible by a US court docket, he might be sentenced to 175 years in jail. It’s evident that Ai shouldn’t be slowing down on presenting political works that present the strain between liberty and freedom. For him, an important position of the artist is to cross boundaries, nevertheless perilous.
“If I see a boundary, the primary concept is to cross it; to be on the opposite facet. So after all that’s harmful and may trigger harm. The mass presumption can’t meet up with what a person thoughts needs to do. However sadly, as an artist, that is what we predict is most necessary to do: to undergo this uncertainty, and to inform individuals to be artistic. It is harmful, nevertheless it’s obligatory.”
• Ai Weiwei’s La Commedia Umana: Memento Mori, Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, till 27 November 2022