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'Ai Weiwei. Resetting memories' opens at Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo
Chinese contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei makes a video of the press during a press conference on his new exhibition at the University Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC) in Mexico City on April 11, 2019. Ai Weiwei unveiled the portraits of the 43 Mexican missing students of Ayotzinapa made with one million Lego pieces. ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP.

MEXICO CITY.- Ai Weiwei. Resetting Memories explores the traumas of the experiences in both China and Mexico in a narrative that appeals to the obligation to construct social memory. Curated by Cuauhtémoc Medina, this exhibition brings together concerns represented by the destruction of cultural heritage and our relationship to our ancestors with the trauma that is the attack on the future, which supposes violence against young people.

The shows presents the Wang Family Ancestral Hall (2015), the largest of the politically inflected readymades that define Ai Weiwei’s work, and the most significant of his interventions into historical artifacts. It involves the ruined structure of the Wang clan’s family temple, dating back to the Ming dynasty, 400 years ago. After the agrarian reform of 1950 and the Maoist offensive against landholders dispossessed the Wang family of its traditional role in the town of Xiaoqi, their landholdings were broken up and this temple went into disuse. Around 2010, the remains of the temple were acquired by an antiquities merchant with the aim of selling them as decorative material. In 2014, Ai Weiwei decided to acquire the entire structure, to repaint the parts that had been subsequently restored with wooden carvings, and to exhibit it in Beijing, in an exhibition that alluded both to the destiny of the country’s culture under the communist regime, and to the state of restricted freedom in which the artist was still living and working in that city, after his incarceration by the Chinese government in 2011.

This architectural ruin’s intrusion into the exhibition hall belongs to the catalog of operations that Ai Weiwei has carried out in order to appropriate, intervene in or destroy historical and archaeological residues and objects as a way of transgressing culture’s materiality and its historical temporality. As the artist has declared, one of the central themes of his work consists of the relationships between “the old and the new” and “the true and the false,”[1] which are part of an investigation into the aesthetic values that define our view of artworks and cultural objects

How can a work that prompts a purely material reflection on China’s historical legacy be articulated alongside an investigation into the toll taken by the violence in a Latin American country in the present? Perhaps by accentuating the way in which the defense of human rights throbs the same way as that of cultural heritage, a claim for what Ai Weiwei has identified as the ethical and political core of the aesthetic.

At MUAC, Ai Weiwei also will share with the public some advances on his documentary To Be about the Ayotzinapa case. This is not a work about the events that led to the disappearance or the murder of the students from Ayotzinapa in 2014, but rather one about the lives of those who have been left to suffer their absence and to fight for the truth, a task that falls to us as citizens and human beings: our responsibility with regard to the future, the obligation to leave evidence, the memory work that the enormous humanitarian crisis that pervades this country bequeaths to us.

This is the knot in which the creation of memory coincides with the need to document, in which the struggle to defend culture coincides with demands for justice, in which the citizenries of the world must exert themselves in relation to both the past and the future, in which the double spiral of Ai Weiwei’s project for Mexico finds its mooring. It is not a question of finding an analogy between the projects and the stories that his work places before us; it is a question, rather, of witnessing the unity of the struggle that involves the citizens of all latitudes when they take hold of the complexity of their history.

[1] Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ai Weiwei: Conversaciones, trad. Carles Muro, Barcelona, Gustavo Gili, 2014, p. 34.

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