Yorkshire Sculpture Park's new exhibition by Ai Weiwei, opening in the Park's newly refurbished 18th century chapel
Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) is pleased to announce an exhibition by Ai Weiwei, opening in the Park’s newly refurbished 18th century chapel following a £500,000 restoration. The project, the first by Ai Weiwei in a British public gallery since Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern, in 2010, will be accompanied by poetry readings from the works of celebrated poet Ai Qing, Ai Weiwei’s father. Ai Weiwei in the chapel opens to the public on Saturday 24 May 2014.
Iron Tree, 2013, a majestic six-metre high sculpture is presented in the chapel courtyard, while the installation Fairytale-1001 Chairs, 2007-14, is presented inside the chapel with two other works: the porcelain Ruyi, 2012, and marble sculpture, Lantern, 2014, which makes its premiere in the UK. The sculptures shown within the chapel relate to ideas about freedom and to the individual within society, whilst also connecting with the history and character of the building.
Iron Tree is the largest and most complex sculpture to date in the artist’s tree series, which he began in 2009. Inspired by the wood sold by street vendors in Jingdezhen, southern China, Ai’s trees are constructed from branches, roots and trunks from different trees. Although like a living tree in form, the sculptures are obviously pieced and joined together, being all the more poignant for their lack of life. Iron Tree comprises 99 elements cast in iron from parts of trees, and interlocked using a classic – and here exaggerated – Chinese method of joining, with prominent nuts and screws. Combining both the natural and crafted, the sculpture will rust over time and its installation in the secluded chapel garden makes a meditative space that gives pause for thought and is a powerful reminder of the cycles of nature.
The second part of the exhibition, Fairytale-1001 Chairs, extends Ai’s major project for Documenta 12 in Kassel in 2007, for which he brought 1,001 Chinese citizens to Kassel for 20 days, representing each person with an antique chair. This transformational experience highlighted the complications of travel for ordinary Chinese citizens. Since his arrest in 2011, Ai’s own travel has been strictly limited and his passport is currently confiscated.
Unable to travel to Yorkshire, and working from plans and photographs of YSP’s chapel, Ai has selected 45 Fairytale-1001 Chairs and has conceived an installation of nine rows of five chairs in the nave. Spaced so that each chair is solitary, they give heightened awareness of the collective and the individual. The chairs date from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) and in this context challenge the class and ritual functions of such furniture, which originally was the preserve of privilege. In the stillness of the chapel, visitors are invited to take a seat and consider freedom, refuge, sanctuary and their antonyms, and to reflect on who may have sat before them, both on the chairs in China and within the 270-year-old Bretton Estate chapel. Through this simple act of participation, histories and cultures meet in a contemplative environment. As the artist has said, &ldqu o;those chairs are part of the fairytale – a symbolic gesture about memory and our past”.
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