Ai WeiWei’s Tangled Repurposed Stools

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The renowned Chinese artist Ai WeiWei‘s “Bang” installation on display in the German Pavillion at the Venice Biennale this year, brings together themes of dwindling customs, culture and sustainability. The tower of tangled wooden stools are made from sturdy wood by skilled craftsman and were handed down from generation to generation.

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“For his installation for the German representation at the French Pavilion, Ai Weiwei has assembled 886 three-legged wooden stools. In today’s China, the three-legged stool is an antique. Manufactured by a uniform method, it was in use throughout China and in all sectors of society for centuries.”

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“Every family had at least one stool, which served all sorts of domestic purposes and was passed on from generation to generation. After the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, and the subsequent modernization of the country, however, production of these stools plummeted. Aluminum and plastic have superseded wood as the standard material for furniture.” Susanne Gaensheimer states in the foreword of the official publication of the German Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia 2013

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She continues to describe the significance of the way the stools are arranged and WeiWei’s metaphoric intentions behind the installation.

“Out of 886 of these stereotyped and yet highly individual objects, Ai Weiwei, recruiting traditional craftsmen who possess the necessary and now rare expertise, has created an expansive rhizomatic structure whose sprawling growth recalls the rampantly proliferating organisms of this world’s megacities. The single stool as part of an encompassing sculptural structure may be read as a metaphor for the individual and its relation to an overarching and excessive system in a postmodern world developing at lightning speed.

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“In the present exhibition, it functions also as a metaphor of the themes addressed in the works of Romuald Karmakar, Santu Mofokeng, and Dayanita Singh, each of whom has devised distinctive techniques to present a variety of perspectives on how biographical, cultural, or political identity is related to larger, transnational conditions and circumstances.”

All images are courtesy of Roman Mensing for the German Pavilion.

Happy Chinese New Year! Year of the Snake

The Chinese New Year brings us into the year of the snake, more specifically this year is the year of the yin water snake. The water snake symbolises luck, wisdom and intellect.

Jian Qiang folding paper

Jian Qiang folding paper photo courtesy of CBi China Bridge

Jian Qiang has been living in Shanghai for the past 30 years, doing odd jobs to survive. Today, he still very active and works as a bicycle guard and a ‘diehard’ paper craftsman.

Paper Planes

Paper planes, photo courtesy of CBi China Bridge

While he guards the neighbourhood’s bikes, he manages to find time to create hand folded characters from reclaimed paper. These creations are used to inspire children, and to pass along as symbols of luck and fortune to families and business owners around him. Occasionally they are also sold to foreigners that admire his creativity.

Paper Snake

Paper snake photo courtesy of CBi China Bridge

CBi China Bridge recognised Jian Qiang’s infectious passion for his craft and have collaborated with him to share the New Year’s zodiac as a symbol of Good Luck and Fortune. They have produced gift boxes which include a short profile of Jian Qiang and a beautifully folded paper snake. These are a perfect way to welcome in the new year and to celebrate the things we love with the people we care about.

Contemporary Chinese Furniture: Shao Fan

The Chinese designer Shao Fan is also a renowned painter and sculptor. He has designed furniture which represents art rather than being purely functional. He claims to be a pioneer of deconstructive furniture and is considered to be hugely innovative as a result of his popular redesigns of ancient Chinese furniture.

Shao Fan chair in Beijing, China

He was born into a renowned Beijing artist family in 1964 and always excelled in art, particularly in painting. During the Cultural Revolution he received his first painting instruction from his parents, who were university art professors assigned to paint Mao Zedong propaganda.

Purple Shao Fan chair in Beijing, China

Shao Fan graduated from Beijing Art and Craft College in 1984 and he still lives and works in Beijing.

Shao Fan chair in Beijing, China

We were fortunate enough to visit his studio in Beijing and see these magnificent pieces. Each chair standing as an individual work of art.

Shao Fan chair in Beijing, China

As one of the first Chinese artists to explore the boundaries between visual art and design, his furniture is visually striking but still retains it’s purpose. In the ‘Chairs(?)’ series (1996), Shao Fan sought to reinterpret a subject as simple as furniture making.

Shao Fan chair in Beijing, China

He believes that Ming furniture contains the essence of Chinese philosophy. By taking furniture in the Ming style apart, and combining it with contemporary materials and design, Shao Fan wanted to express the philosophical and cultural changes and contrasts that he felt China is facing today.

Michael Wolf – Sitting China

Michael Wolf’s book on ‘Sitting China’ is a simple idea yet it creates a theme which is surprisingly insightful into the world of people living in such a booming country. His photographs show old, modern, broken and creative pieces put together to suit everyday needs.

They are not meant to be works of art, they are purely functional. That is how they are intended at least, he photographs chairs that have been fixed and adapted to serve a primary purpose – sitting.

No matter how basic these chairs may be, he has found creativity and characters in objects that are often old and quirky however they are still functional and are put to good use.

While in China he received criticism from people who watched him photograph these often dilapidated and strange looking contraptions. Some felt he was trying to paint China in a bad light.

He tried to explain that he was in fact fascinated by these chairs as they provided far more character than a modern sleek chair. The book appears to be documenting pieces which may seem like art to many people.

It shows different sides of China, it would be unreasonable to assume China is full of dilapidated chairs, but it would also be unrealistic to think that these would not exist in any country.