I first came across Ai Weiwei’s work sometime ago at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – see http://www.ysp.co.uk/exhibitions/ai-weiwei-in-the-chapel (accessed 14.3.15), but didn’t realise until a visit to Blenheim Palace (see blog post) that he had an interest in photography. His few pieces of work on display at Blenheim didn’t work for me, but I decided to research further.
I found that the Asia Society Museum (NYC) has an exhibition of 227 photographs taken by Ai Weiwei, capturing the history, culture, and atmosphere of 1980s New York and has an excellent online display too – http://asiasociety.org/aiweiwei (accessed 14.3.15). This also lead me to a video of Weiwei describing his own experiences and work in NYC – TateShots: Ai Weiwei in New York – https://vimeo.com/17404865 (accessed 14.3.15). Here are some of my thoughts, as I browsed his work online:
- A video by museum director, Melissa Chiu, explains Weiwei’s background and the setting for his New York Photographs, taken with ‘fresh eyes’ as a Chinese immigrant, who arrived in New York with nothing. This must have given him a very different perspective on New York, and I wondered whether this would be reflected in his work of the well-photographed city. I found that he was drawn to political protests, echoing his experiences in China.
- During his 10 years in NYC, he took nearly 10,000 photographs (1983-1993). He wonders whether he’d remember this time in his life without the photographs. A reminder that to capture great moments, you always need to carry a camera with you.
- The photos exhibited are mostly of events on the streets, up-close and with interesting points of view. To capture these moments well, you need to be right in the action. He was motivated by political interest for some images (of protests) and believes in supporting this through art/photography – he passed some images to the newspapers to show what was happening. The protesters ‘became his friends’. The images would have little impact if taken from a distance with a telephoto lens.
- He says that he leads his life as an artist and believes that the most important thing is not creating but seeing.
The research has given me an understand and appreciation of Weiwei’s photography – must always remember not to make judgements on only a small part of an artist’s work.