translocation - transformation
"Everything is art. Everything is politics.” (Ai Weiwei)
Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has brought his latest statement ‘F Lotus’ to Vienna, and it doesn’t disappoint.
The installation, which can currently be seen at the 21erhaus at Belvedere Palace as part of the exibitihion ‘translocation - transformation’, is composed of 1,005 worn life jackets, collected from the island of Lesbos. They were all left behind by refugees. The jackets are arranged in 201 rings which form the shape of the letter F. Each ring consists of five jackets, floating like lotus blossoms on the water.
It certainly is a sight, especially because at first glance, it isn’t obvious at all that the piece consists of life jackets. It’s very easy to just take it for an aesthetically pleasing, pretty floral work of art. Only if you take the time to come closer and look you see what it’s really made of. It is interesting to witness the reactions of those who walk up to the piece without knowing what it is about, seeing the realization dawn and the emotional reactions it causes.
When I went to see it (a friday afternoon) the yard was quite busy and as far as I coul tell, the reactions were mixed, ranging from offended to fascinated to people taking selfies with it (-what’s that about?-).
Ai Weiwei’s work has always been controversial and while I’ve liked a lot of his work (having seen some in Helsinki last fall), there have also been pieces I wasn’t into.
This one, however, certainly struck all the chords with me. It’s impressive, it takes up space, and it visually represents the scale of the refugee crisis in Europe very well in that it’s hard to see the individual vests within the entity, just like we tend to not see the individuals within terms like ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘refugees’.
And the way the installation is placed makes it even harder to come close: the water bassin is surrounded by grass stripes flagged ‘do not enter’ and the paths around it only carry you so close. If you buy a ticket that doesn’t give you access to the main palace building, you also have no chance to see the entire work from an elevated position. You’re left with only glimpses of its pieces at awkward angles. Ultimately, I felt affected yet didn’t quite know how to approach it, just like I don’t quite know how to approach, how to react to, how to help with the plight of the people risking their lives to come to Europe.
It’s an impressive experience well worth the price. I’m definitely still thinking about ‘F Lotus’.
Read up on the piece here. Also check out this video of the installation being placed.