As we started our second day in Venice and made our way to the Arsenale section of the Biennale, we stumbled upon one of the many satellite exhiitions scattered throughout the islands of Venice. I rarely get an opportunity to seek these out, but occasionally you turn a corner and one appears.
Venice is magical like that.
Today we stumbled upon a special exhibition of Ai Weiwei's work. He's one of my favorite contemporary Chinese artists and his work deals directly with my essential question, “What was the political role of art in the past and in our current globalized society?”
For those of you who don't know his work, he works in a far ranging variety of styles and media, however, one constant in his work is politics or more specifically, criticism of the Chinese government. His dissident voice has resulted in the bulldozing of his studio, (which he claimed his greatest work), a beating by police resulting in an extended hospital stay, and his arrest.
This satellite exhibition deals with his incarceration. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I will set the stage by saying that the church is filled with six minimalist boxes made of steel arranged in two rows. Upon closer inspection, each box has a small door, about half the normal size and some small windows to gaze into.
As you peer in, the interior tells the unfortunate details of his imprisonment using what appears to be highly realistic ceramic sculpture. This work is highly critical of the Chinese government and its treatment of its people and powerfully addresses censorship and political oppression.