Despite being under house arrest, Ai Weiwei has become a global celebrity thanks to his political art and his ability to get his message out via the internet. He mixes traditional Chinese heritage with the flaws he sees with modern day China — including mass production, pollution and the restriction of freedom of speech. His work was most notably last seen in London when he covered the floor of Tate Modern’s turbine hall with millions of sunflower seeds.
His latest exhibition at Lisson gallery is true to form, tackling these same issues through his newest work. Multiple identical bicycle frames are assembled into towering contraptions that bring a uniform rigidity to the chaotic mass of cycles we’re accustomed to seeing in the streets of China’s largest cities; this piece being a commentary on the fact that bicycles are starting to disappear as industrialisation gains pace.
In another piece, a marble slab, as you would find over a tomb, has a gas mask emerging from it, reflecting on how the pollution in China’s largest cities is impacting the lives of its residents. Elsewhere, traditional materials that China is famous for such as Jade and Marble are used to create either modern items such as a range of cosmetics or symbols of Weiwei’s incarceration, including a pair of handcuffs.
The works downstairs are largely disappointing. Sticking up a middle finger at famous landmarks may be humorous but it feels lowbrow compared with the grand conceptual nature of the artist’s other works.
Weiwei’s continued home imprisonment ensures that the political weight of his art still bites, but the broad themes explored within this exhibition do not cover any new ground compared with his previous efforts.
For more art to see in London, see our May listings.