Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, Web of Light, 2008. Photograph by Adatabase

Ai Weiwei, Web of Light, 2008. Photography by Adatabase

Ai Weiwei, Web of Light, 2008. Photograph by Adatabase

Ai Weiwei, Web of Light, 2008. Photograph by Adatabase

Ai Weiwei, Web of Light, 2008. Photograph by Adatabase

The spider is one of nature’s architects, whose ability to weave his silken web provides the means for his survival. For MADE UP, artist, architect, curator and prolific blogger Ai Weiwei’s (b.1957, China) took this symbol of creativity, and enlarged it to gigantic proportions, spinning a web of light across the entirety of Liverpool’s Exchange Flags. At the heart of this intricate steel construction was a crystal studded spider, while LED lights strung along the cables allowed us to enjoy a paradoxical night-time image of dew glistening in the sun.

Ai has also looked to nature for inspiration on previous architectural projects, most notably as Herzog and de Meuron’s collaborator on Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium. But Ai is not so much interested in plays on the natural, more in taking objects and, through a simple intervention (in this case a shift in scale), transforming the familiar into something new and extraordinary, with the result that the idea or image becomes all the more real by virtue of its unreality.

Ai often focuses on the materials of the past, in particular China’s past, for his work, transforming them through assembly, remoulding, or sheer destruction, into present day commentary. Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995), for example, is a series of black and white photographs documenting the artist doing just that. These works can be read as a direct criticism of decades of cultural suppression and censorship in China. Ai himself spent much of his childhood in the remote province of Xinjiang, where his father, the well-known poet Ai Qing, had been exiled during the Cultural Revolution.

But there's also a broader, more universal message in these works. The illustrate Ai’s belief in the right for ideas to exist freely, like objects in space. Fairytale, drew considerable attention at Documenta XII (2007). The artist brought 1001 chinese visitors to Kassel, as well as 1001 Qing dynasty chairs, which were distributed throughout the exhibition’s spaces to provide symbolic points for reflection. The number 1001 was deliberately chosen to emphasise the individual within the group – one person more than a thousand.

Ai’s second contribution for Documenta, Template, offered an equally important insight into his thinking. This large cruciform outdoor construction made from original Qing and Ming dynasty doors and windows collapsed in stormy weather in the first week of the exhibition. Ai decided not to rebuild the work or to remove it from exhibition, but to leave the collapsed monument as a heap of old doors and windows on a lawn. His response showed his desire that his creations take on their own life, free to exist beyond the control or jurisdiction of either an artist or a political party

Ai has said of Web of Light (2008), ‘There is no idea behind the spider, except that the spider itself might become an idea.’ Under his beautiful canopy, he provided us with a symbolic space for ideas to be dreamed into reality.

Ai Weiwei at Liverpool Biennial 2008

Web of Light, 2008
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial International 08
Exhibited at Exchange Flags

Supported by

Liverpool Culture Company Limited (2008 European Capital of Culture)
Northwest Regional Development Agency
The Henry Moore Foundation