This autumn, Foam
presents #SafePassage, an exhibition by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei (b. 1957, Beijing). Having left a life of constant government surveillance, the artist feels a personal affinity with the growing influx of refugees attempting to enter the EU. Since his first visit to the Greek island of Lesbos in December 2015, he and his team have travelled to refugee camps all around the Mediterranean, including those in Syria, Turkey, Italy, Israel and France.
The exhibition deals with the struggle between the individual and the systemic structures that dominate society. It highlights both the experiences that prompted Ai Weiwei to leave his homeland and the experiences of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants; people who continue to risk their lives to reach Europe, often to find their path barred by arduous asylum procedures and xenophobia.
#SafePassage begins with works reflecting on the artists personal experiences of life under surveillance as described in Foam Magazine #43. Ais passport was eventually returned to him in July 2015. Shortly afterwards he left for Europe, to settle in Berlin where he now has his studio. He continues to use the strategy of ultimate self-surveillance through the almost endless stream of images he posts on Instagram, enabling anyone with an Internet connection to follow him from day to day. Since his first visit to the Greek island of Lesbos in December 2015, his Instagram feed has functioned as a de facto real-time newswire as he and his team travelled to refugee camps across the Mediterranean.
In the second part of the exhibition, the walls of Foam have been plastered with thousands of pictures he took with his mobile phone, mostly candid shots which provide a sense of the living conditions within the camps. The immense collage reflects on the vast array of personal encounters the artist had with individuals in refugee camps, further underlining the scope of this crisis. Ai Weiwei s images are accompanied by a selection of his iconic marble sculptures and a selection of video works amongst which: Changan Boulevard (2004), which documents the road that dissects Beijing in half on its east-west axis, and On the Boat (2016), in which we see the artist on an abandoned boat in the middle of the ocean.
Ai Weiwei is best known for his sculptures and large-scale installations, which conceptually bind traditional cultural crafts with contemporary political messages, linking historical roots, materials and paradigms with topical questions in contemporary society. As well as having presented major exhibitions and pavilions all around the world, Ai is also an architect, writer, filmmaker, philosopher and political activist. From collaborating with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics to investigating government corruption, Ai Weiweis practice is inextricably linked with the state of contemporary Chinese art and society.