‘Forge’: Using Metal Rebar Ai Weiwei Reports From China

NEW YORK—A seemingly simple installation by contemporary artist Ai Weiwei makes a profound social statement and manages to be both abstract and orderly. Composed of metal fragments salvaged from schools destroyed by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the precise work carpets the floor of Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea.

“Forge” is a pair of exhibits featuring installations by the Chinese artist currently on view at both of the gallery’s New York spaces.

Ai conducted a citizens’ investigation to document the student victims of the earthquake and is using the metal remains to bring attention to the fact that the schools collapsed due to sub-standard construction that the Chinese government attempted to cover up.

The precisely laid series of bent rebar took a week to install. When asked about the process, the gallery said in order to replicate the original installation composed by Ai in his Beijing studio, an aerial photograph was taken, the image was gridded and mapped with coordinates, and finally, the pieces of metal rebar were stored in boxes labeled with their corresponding coordinates. Finally, five of the Chinese artist’s assistants were flown in to lead the re-installation at the gallery.

The Chelsea exhibit includes the aerial photograph stretched on a canvas and a documentary reports on the remains of the schools and the making of the installation.

All photos © Arts Observer

Detail view of “Forge” at the Chelsea location of Mary Boone Gallery. The collection of metal rebar was salvaged from the sites of schools that collapsed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Chelsea: Detail of photograph on wall that mirrors the floor installation.

Chelsea: Detail of rebar floor installation.

At the gallery’s Fifth Avenue space, Ai’s work tells the story of the government destruction of his Shanghai studio. As soon as the new studio was built in 2010, the local authorities declared the construction illegal and eventually demolished it in 2011.

Fifth Avenue: The exhibition documents the fate of Ai Weiwei’s studio through before and after images of the building (background), a documentary and “celebratory” crabs.

Fifth Avenue: Detail of “He Xie” which is Chinese for “river crab.”

The installation of 2,500 hand-made porcelain creatures represents the celebration Ai Weiwei organized when he learned the fate of his studio. Via Twitter, he invited supporters to a rally at the site of his studio and provided a feast of 10,000 crabs for the gathering.

Fifth Avenue: Installation view of rebar works.

Fifth Avenue: Detail of rebar.

“Forge” is on view at Mary Boone Gallery at its locations in Chelsea and on Fifth Avenue from Oct. 13 to Dec. 21, 2012. The exhibit coincides with an extensive survey of Ai’s work at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, where “According to What?” is on view through Feb. 24, 2013.

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