Friday, August 16, 2013

The hokum of Ai Weiwei

Canada's newspaper of record today features a review of an Ai Weiwei exhibition at The Art Gallery of Ontario.

According to James Adams, one of the exhibitions' highlights is Straight, which is forty tons of rebar lying on the floor of the gallery.

That's the intriguing thing about art, isn't it? When there's forty tons of rebar lying on the floor at the local welding shop it's called an accident. When it's lying on the floor of a gallery it becomes art.

Here's where the hokum comes along; after the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 Ai Weiwei and his team "collected thousands of rebar rods from these (collapsed) schools, straightened them, then arranged their varying lengths into a vast carpet of rusted corrugated steel."

Apparently this is "a powerful testimony to state indifference and to the young lives cut short..."

Ya maybe, but something about this story will ring more than a little false to anyone who has ever had to straighten rebar. It can be done -sort of, but you'll never get them to pile quite that neatly after they've been bent and straightened.

Not only that, but rebar is cased in cement, so the Ai Weiwei team has meticulously disentombed each individual length from the concrete in which it had been embedded.

The Ai Weiwei travelling circus has 40 tons of rebar on view in Toronto and 150 tons at the Venice Art Beinnale which runs till November. That's almost 200 tons of earthquake-ravaged rebar that Weiwei and his team has pulled from collapsed buildings in Sichuan.

It looks like the artist and his team use an assortment of rebar diameters, but for the sake of easy math lets assume the entire exhibit consists of #5 rebar which weighs a convenient one pound per running foot. That would put 80,000 ft. of rebar on view in Toronto; 300,000 in Venice.

In total, Ai Weiwei and his team have salvaged over 70 miles of rebar from an earthquake zone, cleaned it of concrete, and straightened it?

All since 2008?

Not that we want to call Weiwei's bluff. He has become a hero of sorts in some circles for antagonizing the Chinese government, who as we all know do not love freedom and democracy nearly as much as their betters in America.

I'm guessing that for the "Straight" touring exhibit, The Artist calls up the nearest rebar supply house for his rebar needs, and none of the rebar on view in Toronto or Venice has ever been near Sichuan.

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