Law of the Journey / Ai Weiwei
Mar 17, 2017 – Jan 7, 2018

Ai Weiwei / National Gallery Prague

There’s no refugee crisis, but only human crisis… In dealing with refugees we’ve lost our very basic values, those words articulated by the world’s leading contemporary artist Ai Weiwei in response to the current humanitarian disaster resonate the intellectual ethical legacy of the most important thinkers of our time. Giving powerful evidence of the shared experience of living in an uprooted world in which we are no longer ‘at home’, they define the role of art as a means to understand our complex reality, to instigate action and provide solace. 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, Ai Weiwei continues.

After having presented the acclaimed set of sculptures, Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads in 2016, the National Gallery in Prague is proud to host the Law of the Journey, the first exhibition in the Czech Republic (and in Central-Eastern Europe) of the distinguished Chinese contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei. Himself a refugee, Ai has almost entirely focused his work on advocating the refugees’ human rights and documenting their tragic condition throughout the past two years. The humanitarian crisis has become especially dire since 2015 when the influx of refugees into Europe from Syria and elsewhere escalated dramatically. It has been described by the U.N. emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien as ‘a slaughterhouse, a complete meltdown of humanity, the apex of horror’. During his visits to refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesvos, or at the border between Greece and FYROM, Ai Weiwei conceived a number of art projects devoted to the contemporary global odyssey while filming the documentary Human Flow.

 

Ai Weiwei / National Gallery Prague

Ai Weiwei / National Gallery Prague

Ai Weiwei / National Gallery Prague

The exhibition Law of the Journey is Ai Weiwei’s multi-layered, epic statement on the human condition: an artist’s expression of empathy and moral concern in the face of continuous, uncontrolled destruction and carnage. Hosted in a building of symbolic historical charge – a former 1928 Trade Fair Palace which in 1939–1941 served as an assembly point for Jews before their deportation to the concentration camp in Terezín – it works as a site-specific parable, a form of (public) speech, carrying a transgressive power of cathartic experience, but also a rhetoric of failure, paradox and resignation. Like Noah’s Ark, a monumental rubber boat is a contemporary vessel of forced exodus, floating hopelessly within the immense, oceanic abyss of the Gallery’s post-industrial, cathedral-like Big Hall. Set for a journey across the unknown and the infinite, an overcrowded life raft carries ‘the vanguard of their people’, as Hannah Arendt described the illegal and the stateless in her seminal 1943 essay, We Refugees: over 300 figures, squeezed within the confines of a temporary shelter, undertake a journey ‘far out into the unnavigated’, fleeing violence and danger.

 

Ai Weiwei / National Gallery Prague

Ai Weiwei / National Gallery Prague

Ai Weiwei / Instagram

By this radical gesture of reconstructing a desperate act of plight as an anti-ornament of a humanity in decline, Ai Weiwei pays a powerful tribute to the human tragedy of the present moment as well as to humankind’s eternal desire for home and a sense of a belonging. Law of the Journey is a call for action and condemnation of the ignorance and blindness of the political and civic apparatus. 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.”

Ai Weiwei / National Gallery Prague

Ai Weiwei / National Gallery Prague

Ai Weiwei / National Gallery Prague

Ai Weiwei / National Gallery Prague

The accompanying selection of Ai Weiwei’s previous works includes Laundromat (2016), a subversive portrait of dispossession and displacement, where the artist continues addressing the refugee crisis; With Flowers (2013–2015), Ai Weiwei’s specific attempt at a commemorative self-portrait in times of confinement; Snake Ceiling (2009), yet another moving monument in Ai Weiwei’s oeuvre, devoted to the 5,000 plus school children who lost their lives during a massive earthquake in China’s Sichuan province in 2008; and a chandelier sculpture Traveling Light (2007), a reflection upon the past and its strength to project the future.

 

Ai Weiwei / National Gallery Prague

Law of the Journey can be seen as a companion exhibition to Weiwei’s feature documentary Human Flow which is currently premiering with various dates and venues, captured over a stretch of 23 countries following a chain of urgent human stories across the globe as a witness to its subjects and their search for safety.

 

Law of the Journey / Ai Weiwei
March 17, 2017 – January 7, 2018 / National Gallery Prague
Curated by Jiří Fajt & Adam Budak
Please visit the exhibition page >

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