Last year the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan held an exhibition of Ai WeiWei’s work entitled ‘Absent’ referencing the artist’s detention by the Chinese authorities and his subsequent inability to attend his own show. ‘Ai Weiwei: Interlacing’ currently showing at the Jeu de Paume, in Paris, acts as a retrospective of the artist’s work which, in his continued absence, verges on a memorial. It creates a portrait of an artist as strong as he is fragile; as mischievous as he is serious; as alive as he is mortal.
A solo show at the Jeu de Paume is the highest accolade Paris can grant to a photographer. In this context, the show is a bit of a stretch, not only does this multi-faceted artist not fit in to the narrow category of the art form but photography – let’s face it – is not his strongest suite. As an artist, blogger and ‘Twitterer’ Ai is a prolific photographer; he uses the medium to document (and share) the ephemera of daily life (meals eaten, art works in creation, travels taken etc) and as a means of documenting the process or outcome of his work. Photography provides the ‘interlacing’ between his many projects and media; in this sense the show reminds us of the power of this medium to bear witness. Case in point: Ai was repeatedly invited by the authorities to construct a studio in Shanghai. Finally, he concedes but as soon as the building is completed, it is declared illegal. The building is torn down, all evidence of the site is removed and finally the field is ploughed-up and returned to farm land. The only evidence of this studio ever being part of reality (as opposed to a Kafkaesque nightmare) are Ai’s photographs.