Hopefully, one day, peace will come to Syria. What then is to be done with the ruins of the ancient city of Palymra which has been substantially destroyed? Should the temples be recreated, or would they just be fakes, especially now that digital technology can recreate 3D images anywhere in the world, as currently on show in Paris?
Should we look for an alternative solution? Perhaps Ai Weiwei has the answer? One possibility, using the inspiration behind his work “Fondation” filling a gallery space at the Lisson Gallery in London, would be to use the ruins as a place of assembly and discussion, something positive for the future to come out of so many years of conflict and destruction.
In “Fondation”, Weiwei places column bases from ancient Chinese halls in a grid in a large wooden base, on which visitors are invited to “sit and reflect on the future”. The work links with Ai Weiwei’s use of social media as a platform to engage international audiences on social and political issues, being used for a performance discussion which was streamed live on 8th December. The work also connects with a two other themes that is seen in much of Weiwei’s work – his sorrow and frustration at destruction that could have been avoided, whether in the name of progress, from political activities or through the impact of poor construction from natural events such as the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and his ability to create something new from that the destroyed material, which is also evident in his cast-iron root and branch scultpures on show at Lisson Gallery’s new building in New York.
Located under the High Line between 23rd and 24th street, the new Gallery designed by Studio MDA and Studio Christian Wassmann incorporates the structure of the High Line and springs outwards with its rooflights, while reflecting the industrial aesthetic of the London gallery.
In London, another room is filled with Ai Weiwei’s digital work “258 Fake”, comprising 7,677 photographs running at speed through twelve wall-mounted monitors, with different themes – some serious, some amusing; some factual and some imaginary, including portraits of Weiwei himself, images of the devastating earthquake of 2008 in Sichuan, the sculptural forms of buildings, work being created in his studio and amusing pictures of a cat. With the images changing every 4 seconds, there is always something new to see, whether within the sequence on one monitor or in the juxtaposition of contrasting images on adjacent monitors.
Seen also from the street, the photographs bring Ai Weiwei’s work to a new audience of passers-by who might never normally enter an art gallery.