”There’s no refugee crisis, but only human crisis… In dealing with refugees we’ve lost our very basic values.” Once again, this is a message sent by the latest Ai Weiwei sculpture revealed on the artist’s Instagram ahead of the opening of his solo exhibition in Czechia. At Trade Fair Palace, organized by the National Gallery in Prague, the Law of the Journey show will put on display a variety of artworks commenting on the current humanitarian disaster; perhaps most particularly through a giant inflatable installation imitating a life boat packed with rubber humans wearing life vests. ”In this time of uncertainty, we need more tolerance, compassion and trust for each other since we all are one. Otherwise, humanity will face an even bigger crisis”, said Ai Weiwei.
In 2016, Ai Weiwei presented his acclaimed set of sculptures, Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads at the National Gallery in Prague, which will now welcome the first exhibition of the Chinese artist in Czechia and Central-Eastern Europe. The event represents the latest in a series of interventions that the Chinese artist undertook in the past couple of years, drawing the public’s attention to the dire situations of refugees coming to Europe from the Middle East. Most notably, he created several projects for the migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos, as well as those on the border between Greece and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; there, he also filmed the documentary titled Human Flow, which will premiere in 2017, portraying forced displacement and trying to understand the human condition in present day. The exhibition’s title alludes to Walter Benjamin’s reading of Franz Kafka’s Law of the journey (das Gesetz der Fahrt) as ”a route of unexpected reversals and distortions that derange casual connections between origins and destinations, wishes and fulfillments, annunciation of messages and their reception.”
The Law of the Journey exhibition represents Ai Weiwei’s expression of empathy and moral concern in the face of continuous, uncontrolled destruction and carnage. This is strongly expressed through the monumental rubber boat installed inside the Trade Fair Palace, which also served as an assembly point for Jews before their deportation to the concentration camp in Terezin. Reminiscent of Noah’s Ark, the piece is a contemporary vessel of forced exodus, floating hopelessly within the immense, oceanic abyss of the Gallery’s post-industrial, cathedral-like Big Hall. The overcrowded boat, set for a journey across the unknown and the infinite, carries over 300 figures squeezed in their temporary shelter. This Ai Weiwei sculpture clearly pays a tribute to the human tragedy shaking up the world as we speak and calls to immediate action.
Apart from the boat, the exhibition in Prague will also feature other famous Ai Weiwei artworks, including Laundromat from 2016, a portrait of dispossession and displacement, With Flowers, the artist’s self-portrait; Snake Ceiling, dedicated to more than 5000 children who died during the earthquake in the Sichuan province in China, as well as Traveling Light, a reflection upon the past and its strength to project the future. Law of the Journey opens on March 17th, 2017 at the National Gallery in Prague, and will stay on view through January 7th, 2018.
Featured images courtesy the National Gallery Prague.