“The so-called contemporary art is not a form but a philosophy of society.” – Ai Weiwei


The photograph above is part of a performance of Ai Weiwei holding a Han Dynasty urn, dropping this 2000-year old piece of art, and standing over the shattered remnants.  The triptych, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, is a socio-political commentary on power, authenticity, value and cultural survival.  I have to chuckle at this comment: “This is what happens when you exile the dude’s famous poet father to a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution.  The sons gonna drop all your famous shit.”

At the suggestion of a respected JHU professor, I checked out the “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” collection hosted by the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.  I’m still mulling over the political nature of Weiwei’s work, and how his work might inspire or affect my fiction writing, especially given that I’ve developed a distaste for always falling back on conventional forms when attempting to communicate a slice of the human condition.

What I find inspiring about contemporary art is the use of every day objects towards a collective representation of an artist’s idea, without the use of a literal expression.  For example, in “Cube Light,” a work in his chandelier series, Weiwei created a giant chandelier that hangs from the ceiling and contains thousands  of small crystals that hang between an internal light source and viewers on the outside.   Regarding the piece, Weiwei cites the example of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1928 film “October,” in which a chandelier, shaking during the storming of the Winter Palace, represents the instability of a government on the brink of collapse.

Ai Weiwei, Cube Light, 2008. Photo: Cathy Carver.

“Cube Light” reminded me of the experience of reading David Means’ short story “Sault St. Marie,” a story of three drugged young people who plan to hijack a freighter but commit petty theft and murder instead, and somehow foster sentiments of a strange kind of love.  At first, I found this story frustrating because of its lack of a coherent narrative, yet the story stays with me and I can’t help but want to push myself to write something so freakish and intriguing.   In this story, several semi-related sections collectively spiral the reader towards an experience….not the same experience that a coherent narrative of a conventional literary story would deliver, but something almost…cooler.

As I move forward with a new year of writing, I challenge myself to explore how I might convey an experience in a non-literal way.  I blame it on my Experimental Fiction class, which has left a nagging sense that I should challenge myself to think bigger and to think beyond literal words on a page.

The “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” collection will run through February 23, 2013.


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