Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn
One of Ai’s most famous pieces, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995), incorporates what Ai has called a “cultural readymade.” The work captures Ai as he drops a 2,000-year-old ceremonial urn, allowing it to smash to the floor at his feet. Not only did this artifact have considerable value, it also had symbolic and cultural worth. The Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) is considered a defining period in the history of Chinese civilization, and to deliberately break an iconic form from that era is equivalent to tossing away an entire inheritance of cultural meaning about China. With this work, Ai began his ongoing use of antique readymade objects, demonstrating his questioning attitude toward how and by whom cultural values are created.
Some were outraged by this work, calling it an act of desecration. Ai countered by saying, “Chairman Mao used to tell us that we can only build a new world if we destroy the old one.” This statement refers to the widespread destruction of antiquities during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–76) and the instruction that in order to build a new society one must destroy the si jiu (Four Olds): old customs, habits, culture, and ideas. By dropping the urn, Ai lets go of the social and cultural structures that impart value.
Study of Perspective – Tiananmen Square
By: Evgeny Sidelnikov @ Arthive
“The study of perspective” – A series of photographs of Ai Weiwei, which he shot for more than 20 years (from 1995 to 2017) and which, apparently, has not yet been completed. In each picture, viewers primarily see the artist’s left arm extended forward with the middle finger in an offensive gesture. And only then it becomes clear that Weiwei shows this finger to various important institutions, sights and monuments from around the world.
For the most part, the objects Ai Weiwei shows the middle finger are, in his opinion, symbols of oppression of freedom of speech, obstruction of the empowerment of people and the spread of democratic values in society. Using these photos, the artist tries to remind viewers that people should represent their own values, not those that are created and propagated by someone else.
The very first shot of this series was taken on the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where hundreds of unarmed protesters were killed during protests of the democratic movement in 1989. With an insulting gesture toward the gates in Tiananmen Square (ironically enough, they are called the “Gate of Heavenly Peace”), Weiwei sought to express his contempt for the Chinese authorities and their policies. There is another visual implication in this photo: a hint at the famous 1989 photograph with a lone man standing in front of a column of tanks, a photograph forbidden for distribution and reproduction in China.