My Pursuit of Van Gogh: The True Story

Life is remarkably circular. Sometimes life works in ways you can’t even predict. Fifteen years ago, I encountered a story that little did I know will touch my heart in the most unexpected way.

In the early 00’s, encyclopaedias were still our default search engine as the ultimate source of information. Thick, hard-bound books shelved in glass cabinets, catalogued alphabetically according to the sets where it belongs. One day, it was one of those times I was hanging out with a life-long buddy at the library during lunch break when this person handed me an infamous story about a famed artist of the nineteenth century who cut off his ear and shot himself. My 12-year old naive, innocent and Catholic-oriented self was undeniably shocked. Back then, I looked up at these magnificent people from the past as glorious beings who ever walked on earth; Faultless, infallible and immaculate. A quintessence of an ideal human being.

“How could one of the most famous and influential post-impressionist painter lived such a life?”

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Image source: Holland.com

It was the time I was still obstinate and intolerant to the imperfections of life. The story was incomprehensible for me to accept and digest. From then on, I only focused on his works and refused to read about his life. It was simply unsuitable to take a young mind’s innocence and corrupt it with the dark intentions of human beings. So I thought.

Over the years, it has been my personal goal to expand my views and be more open-minded as possible. I allowed to put myself on someone’s shoes in every subject matter, remove all prejudice, breakdown every cultural norm and understand the root of such belief, behaviour and mindset. Since then, it has been my ultimate goal in life: To understand everyone and everything. Everything is a though word and impossible to achieve, but hey, we got to set the bar to the highest level.

One and a half decades later, I’ve pretty much achieved my goal in every subject that crosses my path. By removing personal preferences and inhibitions, I am able to dissect every detail of a fact, opinion or argument. It’s a very liberating thing to do. It’s the perfect time to go back to one story that I tried dancing around for quite a long time.

Life took its turn and presented me with the opportunity to revisit an old friend I’ve kept buried in my memory. The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in partnership with Art Exhibitions Australia and independent art historian Sjraar van Heugten curated Van Gogh and the Seasons as one of its international exhibitions for 2017.

“Hey! It’s Van Gogh. Not to be missed for sure!” I thought. It’s true. It was a wonderful once in a life time experience to see such an exhibit that focused on the four seasons of his works. The storytelling of the exhibit was impeccable. One, if only he will allow to immerse himself to the experience, will clearly feel the connection with Van Gogh’s personal life; How he came to be as one of the most renowned artists of all time.

 

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Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story by Bernadette Murphy

After going through the exhibit, I exited into the souvenir shop without the intention of purchasing any merchandise. There was a large coffee table book, most likely 12″ x 12″ in size detailing the entire exhibit which I personally find above my budget to own. Everyone seems to have bought it. Besides, it was an exclusive publication for this particular exhibit. My best friend bought one, being a huge Van Gogh fan that she is. I personally wasn’t a huge fan of impressionist paintings so I gave it a pass. While browsing through the books section, I saw two copies of Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story by Bernadette Murphy in paperback neatly placed on a table, seemed untouched. The title is very catchy, I scanned a bit, read a few pages and left.

Days later, the book seems to be calling out for me. NGV was conveniently located two blocks away from my workplace so I went back to the souvenir shop during my lunch break. I went back to the table where I last saw it but to my surprise, there’s none left. I saw an elderly man, around 70 years of age, intently reading the only copy of the book in sight. I wanted to wait for him so I can grab it for myself but he seemed so serious and wouldn’t put it down any time soon.

I asked the first staff I could find but I was told that it was completely sold out! I couldn’t accept it. “She seems like one of those staff who are lazy to get some stock.” The person I happen to asked must be a newbie. So I looked for the most easily swayed staff, younger than me, someone who looks like he doesn’t want to upset anyone, from the minority group, and asked again. I explained to him how badly I wanted the book. I know that I can purchase it online, but sometimes, you just want it right now.  I waited for some time and he came out with a bunch of new stocks. I was delighted and thanked him repeatedly. I got two copies and sent one to my best friend who lives in Sydney.

I started reading it as soon as I got the book. I couldn’t just put it down. The investigative, story-telling narration style was so captivating. The enigma of the book piqued my curiosity and I was completely sold. The story revolved around the pursuit to identify “Rachel”, the allegedly prostitute which Van Gogh offered his ear after cutting it off one night of December 1888. There were a lot of times while reading the book, my mind was impatient and furious, “Who the f*** is ‘Rachel’?!” But of course, I knew that her identity will only be revealed in the end. I didn’t want to skip anything! Every detail is vital to the story. I’m a lazy reader and I’ve got to say that not a part of this book bored me neither gave me a reason to give up.

Van Gogh’s mental breakdowns – why, when and where it happened – were all essential in understanding the ultimate act of insanity that went down to his story and eventually to history.

This book revealed so much from what I have expected. Bernadette Murphy took seven laborious years gathering information and ID-ing every single resident of Arles in every situation. She traveled in every place mentioned in the book to see first hand and imagine what it was like to live during Van Gogh’s time. Her effort in completing this book is truly amazing. This book explains the different medical diagnoses of the painter and uncovered the truths behind the sensationalised newspaper prints during his time. It also allowed us to see and feel the ultimate bond between two brothers despite the financial hardship they went through.

After all these years, I have finally able to embrace his story in perfect timing. It’s utterly overwhelming to have finished the book with a tragic end (as we all know) but it leaves a heartwarming experience that will forever linger in the soul.

 

 

My Only Loyal Trait – INTJ

“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus (Greek Philosopher)

This is one of the most notable universal lessons I learned early in life. Everything changes. We have to accept and continuously adapt to this inevitable phenomenon.

Palmistry

Contrary to popular belief in palmistry, the lines on our palms changes at least every three months. This can only mean that there’s a high probability that our ‘predictable’ future can change anytime soon. Advantageous for those who didn’t like their palm reading results.

When I was in uni, I met a professor who does palm reading. She read my life and fate as a short one, both ended right in the middle of my palm. Before I heard her reading, for some reason, I’ve always believed I wouldn’t go past 30, the main factor why I didn’t pursue to be a specialist doctor despite wanting to be one since I was 4 years old. Her reading, confirming my short life, just added as another reason for me to live my life to the fullest. I started learning everything I wanted to learn and do everything I want within my capabilities.

Years later, after a life-changing event, a milestone any person can be proud of, my life and fate lines have been doubled. I haven’t reached my 30th year yet but my palm drastically changed its reading. It’s evident how another set of lines started.

Even life within our palms changes.

The Stars

Some people might argue that our star signs can never change since it was the time we were born. Technically it’s true, but our ancestors, the Babylonians, were trying to divide the sky into equal parts leaving out one of the thirteen zodiac signs to match their ancient calendar. The sky has been recently re-assessed by NASA and the thirteenth zodiac has been officially added again. Ophiuchus, the unfortunate one to be left out centuries ago, has made its come back and shifted the rest of the time periods of the other zodiac signs. The result: No one was happy. Probably aside from those who have always thought they never belong to any of the 12 zodiac signs.

I’m totally antagonistic towards this change, from being considered a Gemini, an air sign with two personalities, I’m now considered a Taurus, an earth sign and regarded as the most reliable of all.

Brain Dominance

Another mind-boggling change in my life is the dominant part of the brain. After being re-assessed over and over, it shifted from one to the other for the past two decades.

As a toddler, I used my right hand for quite some time until I became left-handed. My activities growing up revolved around utilising my creativity – dancing, playing the piano, painting, drawing and swimming. In spite my love for perfection and mentally fitting shapes into random objects, I’ve always been considered a creative rather than an analytical kid.

In high school, I found it enjoyable to play Damath, a math checkers board game, and competitive chess. I played badminton for leisure but was surprised that I can use both hands to hold the racket. It was advantageous for me to use both hands during the game. Throughout this time, I still danced and painted once in a while but I stopped playing any musical instruments. Before graduation, we have been assessed to find out which career would suit our skills best. Obviously, I’ve been advised to take an art-related degree.

By the time I’m halfway through my bachelor’s degree, my hobbies totally changed. I stopped any art-related activities such as dancing and drawing. I lost interest with anime, manga and console games. I focused more on my studies and I found my interest in business, marketing, history and languages. The school assessed all of us to find out which part of our brain is dominant to help us self-assess the right path to take after graduation. To my surprise, I was one of the rare students who have balanced dominance for both parts of the brain.

Fast forward to today, based on my interests, hobbies and career skills, I am confident to say that my left brain is currently the dominant part. I found myself learning languages, studying East Asian History, and became technical with precision instruments.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Our palms, the stars and the dominance of our brains may betray us but for me, my MBTI personality is the only consistent one that defines me in my life.

It has been 15 years since I took my first Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test and it has been that long since I’ve been consistently assessed as INTJ.

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The description of this personality perfectly describes who I am. It’s a good read for anyone who are interested in getting to know me because my poor skill in socializing wouldn’t even let anyone get past the “Hi-Hello” stage.

Recently, I took some online test that I got the link from one of my favourite bloggers just for fun. To my surprise, it’s quite accurate since my results is still the same. I took one after another from other sites and the results are always INTJ. It was hard to believe at first since I am perfectly aware that I drastically changed at least for the past decade. My hobbies, activities and belief were totally different, even my approach in life have improved, yet my results still show the same.

According to www.16personalities.com, the most recent test I took, INTJ is described as the Architect Personality.

Apparently, it forms just two percent of the population and women with INTJ type only belong to 0.8% of the population. I have always known that I’m different, always pursuing to be different. I dislike being considered as one of a large group but I still believe that INTJ is too much an honour for me. This is the personality for most villains because of their outstanding intellect and cleverness.

This personality is “often a challenge to find like-minded individuals who are able to keep up with their relentless intellectualism and chess-like maneuvering. People with the Architect personality type are imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private, amazingly curious, but they do not squander their energy.” -INTJ (16 personalities)

I love to read. But I’ve never considered myself as a bookworm. I’m actually pretty lazy when it comes to reading but I still prefer to do so because of my curiosity. As a matter of fact, no one in my life has ever referred me as a “bookworm”  contrary to the description of INTJ early in life. I’ve been referred to as “weird” and I got a lot of facial expressions O_o because of my interest in things most kids weren’t interested in.

With a natural thirst for knowledge that shows itself early in life, Architects are often given the title of “bookworm” as children. While this may be intended as an insult by their peers, they more than likely identify with it and are even proud of it, greatly enjoying their broad and deep body of knowledge. Architects enjoy sharing what they know as well, confident in their mastery of their chosen subjects, but they prefer to design and execute a brilliant plan within their field rather than share opinions on “uninteresting” distractions like gossip.

I can’t describe how perfectly fitting this description is to me. Undeniably, it’s the epitome of an INTJ but not enough to be considered quintessential:

A paradox to most observers, Architects are able to live by glaring contradictions that nonetheless make perfect sense – at least from a purely rational perspective. For example, Architects are simultaneously the most starry-eyed idealists and the bitterest of cynics, a seemingly impossible conflict. But this is because Architect personalities tend to believe that with effort, intelligence and consideration, nothing is impossible, while at the same time they believe that people are too lazy, short-sighted or self-serving to actually achieve those fantastic results. Yet that cynical view of reality is unlikely to stop an interested Architect from achieving a result they believe to be relevant.

Architect (INTJ) personality

“In Matters Of Principle, Stand Like a Rock”

It is said that Architects radiate self-confidence and an aura of mystery. One of the things I’m proud of is maintaining that aura to people I come in contact with. Revealing the mystery for me is losing the essence of everything I stand up for.

I once told my mum that in every new job I got into, I have to rebuild everything for the better. It’s like doing an overhaul in the existing systems in place and an in-depth reading on INTJ’s personality makes sense everything to me:

At times it will seem that Architects are bent on deconstructing and rebuilding every idea and system they come into contact with, employing a sense of perfectionism and even morality to this work. Anyone who doesn’t have the talent to keep up with Architects’ processes, or worse yet, doesn’t see the point of them, is likely to immediately and permanently lose their respect.

I’m not a perfectionist but I want systems in place to be strictly followed. My laziness helps a lot with my skill in innovating and creating new processes to make everything easy-breezy.

Another interesting trait that gets me into trouble is my smart-ass way of questioning authority. I’m definitely not a rebel but I believe that I can only properly follow rules and limitations if it makes sense to me. If not, it should be open for re-evaluation. I believe that we shouldn’t follow them blindly just because they are in place. They are after all, regarded as “human laws” created by humans ourselves. What makes the creators right, and us wrong if we begin questioning them?

Rules, limitations and traditions are anathema to the Architect personality type – everything should be open to questioning and reevaluation, and if they see a way, Architects will often act unilaterally to enact their technically superior, sometimes insensitive, and almost always unorthodox methods and ideas. This isn’t to be misunderstood as impulsiveness – Architects will strive to remain rational no matter how attractive the end goal may be, and every idea, whether generated internally or soaked in from the outside world, must pass the ruthless and ever-present “Is this going to work?” filter. This mechanism is applied at all times, to all things and all people, and this is often where Architect personalities run into trouble.

I have always regarded myself as anti-social or one with lack of social skills and this is the reason why:

Architects are brilliant and confident in bodies of knowledge they have taken the time to understand, but unfortunately the social contract is unlikely to be one of those subjects. White lies and small talk are hard enough as it is for a type that craves truth and depth, but Architects may go so far as to see many social conventions as downright stupid. Ironically, it is often best for them to remain where they are comfortable – out of the spotlight – where the natural confidence prevalent in Architects as they work with the familiar can serve as its own beacon, attracting people, romantically or otherwise, of similar temperament and interests.

I don’t consider myself brilliant, but I’m definitely proud of the bodies of knowledge I studied well. I can’t tolerate other people trying to outsmart me in situations where I knew that I know the subject better than they do. Most of the time I just shut up and end the conversation to continue my peace. Other times, when the other party is persistent in trying to make me accept my defeat in this social competition, I just have to join the game and gracefully win in the end.

My friend and colleague recently told me that I’m quite skilled in subtly making people feel stupid, shamed or inessential. But from my end, I consider it as a poorly executed curiosity that I inappropriately communicated across the other party.

Architects are defined by their tendency to move through life as though it were a giant chess board, pieces constantly shifting with consideration and intelligence, always assessing new tactics, strategies and contingency plans, constantly outmaneuvering their peers in order to maintain control of a situation while maximizing their freedom to move about. This isn’t meant to suggest that Architects act without conscience, but to many other types, Architects’ distaste for acting on emotion can make it seem that way, and it explains why many fictional villains (and misunderstood heroes) are modeled on this personality type.

I’m not aware that I move like a chess-board piece, but I’m definitely trying to control situations and maximizing my freedom most of the time. And another thing is that logic is mostly favoured when making a decision and never an emotion. Emotion fades, logic remains forever.

This post is the closest thing anyone can get about getting to know who I am.

> Read more about INTJ personality here <<

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” -Harlan Ellison

NGV: Whistler’s Mother

Portrait of Artist’s Mother (1871), one of the most iconic paintings in the world, was exhibited in NGV, Whistler’s Motheralong with the artist’s and other Australian painters’ works that were highly influenced by Whistler’s art.

The original title of the famous painting is Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, which refers to the exploration of form and colour rather than the portrait of his mother present in the painting. The original title was also inspired by the abstract form of music, with the use of “Arrangement of… No.1” a standard title commonly used in classical music.

It is quite surprising that a masterpiece popularly referred to as a portrait was not originally intended to be a portrait painting at all. The solid blocks of colours, the proportional alignment of each block, and the combination of warm and dark tones portrays Whistler’s strong geometric composition on this painting. It is also important to note that Whistler’s mother’s dress is a block of solid black colour, which is one of the abstract elements that he included.

Interesting though, Alfred Barr, director of MOMA in New York back in 1943, pointed out a mind blowing fact about this painting. He wrote that, without the image of the mother, this large-scale painting is, “a composition of rectangles… not very different from the abstract Composition in white, black and red [1936] painted by [Piet] Mondrian.” He then referred to this painting as a precursor of modern abstract art. 

IMG_6599Portrait of Artist’s Mother (1871)

All my life, like most people who have seen this painting, I looked at its biographical aspect and ignored its existing visibly abstract elements. It could be due to my lack of formal art trainings and my limited exploration of my interest to visual art which has always been finitely intrapersonal. Visiting this exhibit has sparked my curiosities of further understanding behind the visual elements of an art piece, the outspoken message it communicates and the admirable skill and personal history of the artist.

Staring at this large-scale painting alone, exhibited solely in one large room, while all spotlights illuminating only it, was so dramatic, it’s moving. The overwhelming feeling I had when I first laid my eyes on Juan Luna’s Spoliarium (1884) suddenly hit me again. Its grandeur, magnificence and emotional artistic value are undeniably present.

The layout of the entire exhibit itself was carefully crafted that it started introducing the early life of the artist, his life journey, his relationship with his mother and the meaningful backstories that eventually lead him to create such masterpiece. The layout was highly commendable for the dramatic effect it created for every visitor.


James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) is an American master artist who was born in Massachusetts, USA. His family moved to St. Petersburg, Russia in 1843 after the inglorious period of US Military Academy. In 1955, he trained in Paris as a painter for four years before moving to London. He created several works before his commendable masterpiece, Portrait of Artist’s Mother (1871), has been recognised as aestheticism, an art form which has a combination of realist and formalist elements.

Source: NGV Whistler’s Mother

 

 

 

Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei

It is such a privilege and a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a major international exhibition featuring the late pop icon Andy Warhol and political artist Ai Weiwei. Being the two of the most significant artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, I was so thrilled when I first heard the news (a year before the start of the exhibition) that the National Gallery of Victoria has teamed up with The Andy Warhol Museum, in cooperation with Ai Weiwei, to organise such event.

The major exhibition explores the influences of both artists in modern art and contemporary life, which focuses on the parallels, intersections and points of difference between the two artists’ practices. Due to transportation, gallery’s area and other limitations to consider, not all iconic artworks of the artists have been exhibited at NGV for this particular event. Nevertheless, over 300 artworks of both artists’ significant contributions that delivered evocative messages were curated, which lead to my cultivation towards their remarkable life-long journeys. (National Gallery of Victoria)

I’ll start exploring the journey of Andy, who’s art I’m the least a fan of amongst the two. Ai’s extensive, massive and evocative installations beat Andy’s flat, complacent and mass-produced paintings. Ai’s works cover as far back as Ancient China up to the latest societal issues. But to be fair, Andy’s audacity and unconventional art practices have defined a new era of revolutionary artists and may have majorly contributed to Ai’s bold, dissident style.

Andy Warhol

andyAndy Warhol carrying a Brillo Soap Pads Box photograph by Billy Name

I first heard of Andy Warhol when I got into Advertising. I wasn’t talking about the time I majored in the field in college, but the time I got really interested in the history and admired the glory days of the industry back in mid-40’s. (cue Mad Men’s theme – TV Series) One of Andy’s famous paintings is called the Campbell Soup Cans (1962) series in which he hand-painted each can of the product, arranged each variety according to its date of release, and observed uniformity through merchandising in grocery shelves.

Warhol.-Soup-Cans-469x292Image Source: MoMA

The Campbell Soup Cans (1962) is the epitome of Andy’s style when it comes to paintings. Detailed, commercial, low-cost, and mass-produced, similar to the popular products he took inspirations from. His silkscreen medium allow him and his assistants to instantly produce similar huge paintings in a short period of time.

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Another famous series of paintings by Andy is his tribute to the late Marilyn Monroe, which he created after the iconic actress’ death. He used a single photograph from the 1953 film Niagara as reference to re-create an entire series as a form of “..memorial and as a reflection of the media’s insatiable appetite for celebrity and tragedy.” (NGV Label of The Three Marilyns 1962)

MarilyndiptychImage Source: Wiki 

The Marilyn Diptych (1962) contains fifty images of Marilyn Monroe. Twenty-five images on the left are brightly coloured while the other twenty-five are in black and white, that suggests the relation between the celebrity’s life and death. The particular painting above is currently owned by Tate and unfortunately was not part of the NGV Exhibit.

IMG_6169Andy Warhol – Filmography 

Most people would associate Andy with the expression “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” and his popular talk show “Fifteen Minutes” which aired from 1985-1987. Through my readings, I’ve seen at least three different interpretations for this famous expression:

  1. German art historian Benjamin H. D. Buchloh suggests that Andy’s style invalidates the hierarchies worthy to be represented, and once abolished, will be an opportunity for everyone to be famous; Or
  2. Fifteen Minutes represent the limited time a celebrity can only be famous; Or
  3. Due to the technological advancement and level of accessibility of today’s society, anyone can actually be virtually famous. (Wiki: Fifteen Minutes of Fame)

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I also came across different articles refuting the expression’s origin to be the words of Andy. The critics have suggested that the famous phrase was actually taken from the text of an exhibition brochure written by the curator rather than Andy himself. He tried to honestly confess the truth through interviews but it was too late. The society has already branded the expression as his and still continue to do so today.

Screen Tests (1964)

Throughout his career, celebrities, poets, musicians, socialites and other personalities posed for a short film at his legendary studio in Manhattan, the Silver Factory. The films capture the actions of the subjects at natural state and let the viewers interpret whatever narrative they desire.The Silver Factory has attracted many prominent people and has become a space for Andy’s social scene. In a span of two years, Andy has shot over 500 Screen Tests, which he prolonged to imbue a dreamlike stillness. Some of these prominent people include: Cass Elliot, Ann Buchanan, Bob Dylan, Donyale Luna, Billy Linich and Jane Holzer.

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Silkscreen Paintings of Mao (1970’s)

Andy’s repetitive paintings of Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong portrays media’s proliferations of the image and advertising’s promotion of consumers’ desire and identification. Andy created these paintings during the height of cultural revolution in China that has been a global media spotlight. Andy’s numerous works of Mao portray him as a pop-cultural icon during his time.

Andy’s other silkscreen paintings throughout his career that defines today’s definition of pop-culture.

The core of Andy’s career is the portrayal of American’s consumerism: Inexpensive, low-cost, mass-produced, charismatic and popular. His means and the final products of his works both satisfy his core, which are clearly seen through his inspirations and the media he utilised.

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Andy’s painting of Coca-Cola first appeared in 1961. Six years later, he coated Coca-Cola bottles with silver paint as representation of source material. Three years more,  Coca-Cola Company responded with a cease and desist letter when he expanded his project to 100 bottles and filled it with his own You’re In / Eau d’Andy’ (1970). Get it? You’re In…

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Andy did not only focus on the glamorous lifestyle of popular products and celebrities. One of his thought provoking artwork tackles the clash of American Dream and violence in America. Incorporating a tabloid style, gloomy and sombre, Andy replicated the photograph from a newspaper with a headline ‘Did a leak kill … Mrs McCarthy and Mrs Brown?’ referring to the two women killed due to expired canned tunas. In Tunafish Disaster (1963), Andy portrayed how consumer products actually failed its consumers.

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In Silver Clouds (1966) and Cow Wallpaper (1966), Andy expands his artistic style to a theatrical scale by offering an immersive experience that encourages participation through floating metalised polyester films propelled by air currents floating from the walls into space itself. This particular installation exemplifies his fascination with serial production and repetition of pop-cultural imagery. Andy’s deployment of modern manufacturing techniques served as an introduction to a whole new era of art installations.

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Ai Weiwei

A Chinese contemporary artist and activist, I first heard of Ai Weiwei during the preparation of Beijing 2008 Olympics when he collaborated with Herzog & de Meuron in designing The Birds Nest.

birds nestImage Source: MondoArc

However, my interest in Ai Weiwei’s life only began in 2011 when the international media caused a stir on his arrest at the Beijing International Airport. Initially reported as arrest due to incomplete presentation of documentation for travel, the media uncover his alleged tax evasion case. Ai Weiwei has been known for his online presence writing social commentary and criticising government policies aside from sticking to his autobiographies and thoughts on art and architecture. He has always been known for his bold and unapologetic nature which are then transmitted through his art.

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Personally, I believe that Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (2015) is the quintessential artwork of Ai Weiwei. As one of his iconic works captured in both in video and photographs, this particular performative action of holding, dropping and smashing a cultural heritage clearly demonstrates his critical engagement with China’s violent cultural tradition. It draws attention to the continuous desecration of cultural heritage. As shown in the photograph, these images were re-created in plastic blocks representing pixelated forms for the distribution of his powerful message in the digital platform. He originally wanted to use Lego blocks for his other works as well but the company refused to participate in his political activism.

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During the dynastic changes in China in an attempt to erase the past and start over with the new regimes, much of Buddhist statues dating from the Northern Wei (386–535 CE) to Northern Qi (550–577 CE) dynasties were looted and only a few pieces survived today. In Ai’s Feet (2005)he sculpted stone feet on these remaining statues to show that the past cannot easily be erased and eventually catch up with the present.

IMG_6084With Flowers (2015)

At some point in his life, his audacity lead to his detention for 81 days. Every morning, he placed a bunch of flowers in the basket of a bicycle outside his studio and captured it on camera as a form of protest against his restriction to travel. He has posted images of these flowers on social media which emerged a movement called Flowers of Freedom.

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Ai Weiwei created this series in another art form through Bicycle Basket with Flowers Porcelain (2015) and Blossom (2015), this time, to protest against the restrictive rights of people through speech and human-rights. He collaborated with the skilled porcelain craftsmen from Jingdezhen province, whose predecessors once produced the highest quality of porcelain in Ancient China. Through this complex project, he has provided temporary employment to hundreds of people, whose livelihood has been declining through the years.

IMG_6087Blossom (2015) Bed of flowers made of porcelain

Ai Weiwei’s projects do not only focus on his bold actions against government policies and protests against restricted human rights, but he also continuously provides livelihood to the very victims of injustice. 

ai-weiwei-ruptures-faurschou-foundation-002Image Source: AI WEIWEI: RUPTURES MAR. 20TH – DEC. 22ND AT FAURSCHOU FOUNDATION COPENHAGEN

Another perfect example would be the Sunflower Seeds (2010) which he created for his simple yet poetic exhibition. The extensive project has been collaborated again with approximately 1,600 skilled artisans of Jingdezhen producing over 150 tons of man-made Sunflower Seeds out of porcelain. Each piece have been individually hand-painted comprising of 2-3 strokes per side by the locals of the community and the entire project lasted for two and a half years.

Ai-Weiwei-Sunflower-Seeds-Still-from-Tate-video-9Image Source: Ai Weiwei Seeds

An excerpt from Ai’s Sunflower Seed’s website – Ai Weiwei Seeds – perfectly expresses the multiple yet simple meaning behind this project:

“For Ai Weiwei, ‘Sunflower Seeds’ is one piece of art that is composed of 100 million pieces of art. As a singular tiny sculpture, every seed is submerged by a hundred million ones with subtle nuances, similar yet each unique, just as 1,600 workers in Jingdezhen performing repetitive duties; as 1.3 billion Chinese, silent in the crowd; as every fragmented individual in this digital era. Through a sunflower seed, Ai Weiwei triggers a Domino effect, enlarging the lengthy, complicated and exquisite process by 100 million times. Devoting unimaginable patience, time and energy, he brings into focus the significance of individuals, and the imposing strength when they gather together.”

The video below shows the extensive and laborious process each Sunflower seed went through for this project:


Video Source: Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds by Tate

 Ai retells his detention for 81 days back in 2011 through a series of dioramas entitled S.A.C.R.E.D. Maquettes (2011). The acronym stands for  Supper, Accusers, Cleansing, Ritual, Entropy and Doubt, which are the six parts of this series that are all made of fibreglass. It depicts scenes at the cell where he was imprisoned without charges that serve as evidences of oppression, denial of personal freedom and loss of dignity, he and several victims went through.

IMG_6141One of the dioramas in the series. It clearly portrays his lack of privacy and dignity throughout his time at the detention cell.

Ai do not only portray his messages through sculptures, print and dioramas, but he also take in consideration the type of material used in each masterpiece to deliver his evocative messages.

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In Surveillance Camera (2010), Ai’s practice of incorporating traditional materials in addressing contemporary cultural issues is evident. By using traditional marble to portray the elevated status of a significant artefact in this particular sculpture, this piece is very personal to Ai that relates back to his confinement at his studio while all his actions were being monitored.

handcuffsHandcuffs (2015) were both sculpted in jade and in wood. Jade is considered to be the most precious stone in China. Historically speaking, jade is worn only by the members of imperial family. Ai portrays the similar cuffs he wore during his imprisonment to address contemporary issues in the government.

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If there’s one project that clearly defines Ai Weiwei’s character and controversial career, I personally believe it’s the Study of Perspective (1993-2005). As seen in every photograph, Ai is giving a finger in every iconic location around the globe to express his disdain for authority. His audacious behaviour and poetic forms of powerful communication have inspired a new generation of artists in the 21st Century.

Andy Warhol x Ai WeiWei

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Some exhibits showcase a parallel in artistic value and in speaking social context beyond the world of art. In Neolithic Pottery with Coca-Cola Logo (2007), Ai portrays a pop-cultural imagery through the influence of Andy by painting a Chinese artefact and branding it with a logo that represents American capitalism.

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Myths are traditional stories explaining historical events or natural and social phenomenons. Ai and Andy both explore these myths through cultural archetypes from two different parts of the world. Circle of Animals (2010), is a reinterpretation of the twelve zodiac heads ransacked by French and British troops. It functioned as a water clock–fountain in the European-style gardens of Yuanmingyuan palace. “Ai focuses attention on the ethics of looting and repatriation, the role of the fake and the copy and power relations between China and the West.” (Source: Circle of Animals label)

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On the other hand, Andy presents the cultural archetypes in the American popular culture through a series of silkscreen paintings that run from Uncle Sam to the superstardom of Hollywood screen siren Greta Garbo and the innocent charm of Mickey Mouse. (Source:Narrative, myth and memory label)


Further Readings: