According to What? is the title of the solo show by Chinese contemporary art giant Ai Weiwei at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum (it’s also taken from the title of an artwork by Jasper Johns).
The exhibition, which I had the chance to catch recently, is a “best-of” showcase that included the co-creator of Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium’s popular pieces like Fairytale – 1001 Chinese Visitors, that controversial project for 2007’s Documenta 12 that saw him place 1,001 Qing dynasty chairs all over the exhibition area as well as bring 1,001 Chinese citizens to live in Kassel, Germany, for a month (Er, they just showed the documentary video. I don’t think the museum could fit in 1,001 people.)
Maybe I had big expectations from the dude but it was a fairly underwhelming retrospective – albeit there was a certain poignancy to it considering that he was beaten up really badly in August by Chinese cops for relentlessly pursuing his art activism with regards to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake recently.
One of the newer pieces was an installation on the ceiling of a huge snake made from student’s backpacks as a requiem to the kids who had perished in the quake.
The show’s title sounds cocky, but it does ring true throughout the exhibition, as Ai subverts the long history of Chinese tradition by dipping antique vases in industrial paint, reassembling old furniture into installation pieces stripped of utilitarian purposes.
And then, you’ve got stuff like Teahouse, a house and lawn installation made from blocks of compressed pu-er tea leaves.
At this point, I shall turn to the sometimes reliable Wikipedia for a definition of installation art — “an artistic genre of site-specific, three-dimensional works designed to transform the perception of a space.”
And, ala John Berger, compare Teahouse to other photos of stuff that are not done by Ai Weiwei. Like this no-title installation at one of the Kyoto temples I visited days later.
The conic structure is made of sand (?) and was done by a Japanese painter and garden designer named Soami. Who died in 1525.
Funny how, despite belonging to different contexts (and timeframes), they’re both cordoned off. And to stand in front of both, there’s the price of an admission ticket.
And then here’s another “site-specific”, “three-dimensional work” that transformed the perception of the space.
It’s not a Readymade. It’s a simple walking stick and a new-looking hat left in some ulu bus stop in the middle of a quiet village near Oji.
It’s not cordoned off and it’s not part of an exhibition. But I didn’t dare touch it. It also reminded me of Tang Dawu’s Axe installation at The Artists’ Village retrospective at SAM. Like the Axe, it was placed at a corner.
And then, finally, this Japanese shrine at Miyajima, an island off Hiroshima.
Stripped of its religious significance or touristic value, it’s also a “site-specific”, “three-dimensional work” that makes you go, ala Bill (or Ted), “woooah, dude”.
It’s stuck in the middle of the bay. By day, when the tide recedes, it stands on sandy soil.
And when the tide comes in at night, it has the impression of floating on water – made all the more dramatic by the spotlight that shines on it. Like a true-blue installation piece. But you don’t have to pay to see it. Or touch it in the daytime, for that matter.
Installation art? According to what, indeed.