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Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei Transforms the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion
The installation "With Milk, Find Something Everybody Can Use" by Ai Weiwei forms part of the series of contemporary installations with the Pavilion as their setting. Photo: EFE/Toni Albir.

BARCELONA.- As of December 10 the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion will be the object of an intervention that reflects on the use of buildings and our concept of them as unique, unalterable spaces. The artist Ai Weiwei, one of the leading – and most controversial – figures of Chinese contemporary art, will fill the Pavilion pools with two elements that, though very common in our everyday lives, are totally foreign to architectural construction. He will replace the water of the two pools, one exterior and the other interior, with milk and coffee, respectively.

In the words of the artist himself, ‘my intervention explores the metabolism of a living machine (...). In fact, the building is not static: the content of the two pools is replaced all the time, unnoticed to visitors’. Indeed, it seems that the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion is permanently still, but this is not the case, and Ai Weiwei proffers a reflection on this apparent stillness: ‘Upkeeping the condition of milk and coffee is the same as preserving a body, a demanding effort against light, air, warmth…’. In total, the two pools will be filled with 65 tons of milk and 15 tons of coffee, which will be kept in the open air.

This intervention forms part of a series of installations that a number of plastic artists and architects from all over the world have created and will create for the emblematic Mies van der Rohe building. Essentially short-lived, they propose new ways to perceive the architecture of the Pavilion. The programme of installations is a kind of activity that is unique in the city and based on the exceptional spaces of the Pavilion. Those who have created installations for the Pavilion include Antoni Muntadas; Jeff Wall; Dennis Adams; the architects Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue; and the SANAA team formed by Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.

Ai Weiwei, a belligerent artist
Although he doesn’t like to be described as a ‘committed artist’, the fact is that Ai Weiwei is one of the Chinese artists who most discomfort the Beijing regime, especially after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Given the silence on the part of his country’s authorities as regards the number of victims, Ai Weiwei decided to investigate on his own account and opened a blog to recall the dead, which the Chinese government closed when the list exceeded 5.000 names.

For Ai Weiwei (Beijing, 1957) is a belligerent artist, whose works often severely criticise contemporary society. His fighting spirit was aroused long ago: his father, a renowned poet, was sent to a work camp during the Cultural Revolution, where Ai Weiwei himself was interned for a time to be ‘re-educated’.

Ai Weiwei’s career began in 1978, when he enrolled at the Beijing Film Academy together with two of the foremost representatives of Chinese cinema: Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. It was also that year when he founded the avant-garde group The Stars (forerunner to contemporary Chinese art), which broke up in 1983, two years after the artist’s arrival in New York, where he lived until 1993.

In New York, Ai Weiwei studied at the Parsons School of Design, and developed his career based on conceptual art and ‘ready mades’, under the influence of Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp, whose work he has always admired. His oeuvre has invariably been characterised by historical or social criticism: for example, when he smashed a 2,000-year-old Han dynasty vase to ‘free himself’ from the cultural tradition or when he ‘reconverted’ pieces of Ming-dynasty furniture into items thoroughly lacking in logic.

His work embraces art forms such as installations, photography, sculpture and architecture. In the latter discipline he has attained international recognition thanks to his collaboration with the Swiss partnership of Herzog & De Meuron in the design of the Bird’s Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics.

Ai Weiwei has been living in China since 1993, when he returned for personal motives. In 2000 he acted as curator of the exhibition Fuck Off in Shanghai (which was closed by the police, a fact that, paradoxically, earned him more publicity than the authorities anticipated) and founded his REAL/FAKE studio, from which he executes most of his works. His pieces have been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Documenta at Kassel, the Haus der Kunst in Munich and elsewhere.

Mies van der Rohe Pavilion | Ai Weiwei | Chinese Contemporary Art |

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