Class Trip: V&A Museum and Ai Weiwei at the RA

We went to London with the specific focus of exploring the ceramics floors at the V&A and at the ‘What is Luxury?’ space.

The former of these two spaces I am familiar with, as I visit it often when in London. The second was a thought-provoking exploration on the qualities we treasure in our precious objects, and the conflicting nature of some of these properties.

Then Marek and I went to the exhibition of Ai Weiwei’s work at the RA. This is about the latter.

Weiwei’s (re-)use of Tieli (iron-) wood from dismantled temples was particularly saddening…

The profile of China’s borders was made from multiple objects; a sense that in making it there was destruction, and a feeling of ignorance (as the shape could not be seen except from above – it towered over the viewer); like being stuck lost in the woods, not seeing it for the trees. A large part of the exhibition was a commentary on China and its willingness to sacrifice both lives (the myriads of hand-straightened steel rods were particularly upsetting and unsettling to see. Their physical presence was a heavy reminder of the lives lost, the names of the earthquake victims covering the walls in a grid of cold information on the dead) and heritage in pursuit of economic power and growth.

The exhibition also explored the nature of entrapment and Weiwei’s role as a political activist through his work. Some items, such as the handcuffs pictured above (crafted in jade) embody the allure and containment we face at the hands of luxury. We willingly allow ourselves to become slaves to it and realise only too late what we have (not) done. Other items, such as sex toys crafted in marble, were a commentary on human trafficking and sex work.

The collection of photographs I took at the exhibition can be seen on my Flickr in this album.


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