Ai Weiwei Brings His Life Vest Installation to Vienna

Words by Carla Ingrasciotta
July 14, 2016

At Vienna’s Belvedere Palace, Ai Weiwei has installed 1,005 life jackets floating in the estate’s baroque pond. A common thread that runs through both his life and work concerns the themes of expulsion, migration, and deliberate change of location as a transformative catalyst for humans and objects alike.

This critical subject matter is at the core of his first monumental solo show in Vienna. Central to the exhibition is a tea merchant family’s ancestral temple from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), whose main hall will be accurately reconstructed in the 21er Haus. The 14-meter tall wooden temple consists of over 1,300 individual pieces and will be presented for the first time outside of China. Removed from its original function, this process of translocation endows it with new meaning. Similarly, the 21er Haus was originally constructed on a different location, and for a different purpose. Intended as a temporary pavilion for the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, the temple’s placement here provides the grounds upon which the two spaces can engage in a stimulating, multi-layered dialogue. The exhibition, curated by Alfred Weidinger, stretches out into the baroque Belvedere gardens, where one can also find Weiwei’s work, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads – an ensemble of bronze heads from the Chinese zodiac.

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