Saturday, 8 October 2016

Ai Wei Wei - Cubes And Trees

I made the journey back up to Cambridge this week to pay a visit to Cambridge Contemporary Art, and also to visit Downing College's Heong Gallery to see their second exhibition - Ai Wei Wei: Cubes And Trees

The grounds of the college are so beautiful, the students are so lucky to have such an inspiring campus on which to pursue their studies.

I wasn't familiar with Ai Wei Wei's Cubes, and I must admit that although the premise of a group of cubes didn't seem particularly enticing - I had solely gone to this exhibition for the Trees sculptures - these 1 metre square cubes which are enriched by the materials they are made from, really enhanced my viewing experience. They were fantastic. The four cubes are made from crystal, ebony, Pu'er tea and Huali wood. The Crystal Cube was amazing, it gave some fantastic optical effects as it reflected and refracted the light.

This Huali wood Treasure Box had a wonderful marquetry surface and was, intriguingly, like a bee's hive with various hexagonal openings cut into its surfaces to reveal some complex inner constructions.

This  Cube in Ebony was a wonderful exercise in surface pattern. So seductively textural and mysterious with its richly, dark carved surface.

And lastly this Ton of Tea cube (above), did what it said on the tin, and was literally a ton of tea. It too was also full of alluring, fibrous surface textures and the faint aroma of the Pu'er tea plant. The Cubes viewed, it was then time to head outside into the grounds of the college to view the Trees.

I really do enjoy Wei Wei's trees, and had previously encountered them in London at the RA (here). This particular 'copse' at Downing consists of seven trees planted outside the Downing College chapel. They are so clumsy, lumpen and lifeless, but have an ungainly grace of their own, especially when compared to an abundance of the real things in this particular setting. 

I love the rusted rods, nuts and bolts which hold them together and also the beautiful gnarled textures of their constituent parts - some of which are hundreds of years old.

The artist says of the trees:-

'We assembled them together to have all the details of a normal tree. At the same time, you're not comfortable, there's a strangeness there, an unfamiliar-ness. It's just like trying to imagine what the tree was like'.

The following is a poem by Ai Wei Wei's father - Ai Qing who was a poet.


One tree, another tree,
Each standing alone and erect.
The wind and air
Tell their distance apart.

But beneath the cover of earth
Their roots reach out
And at depths that cannot be seen
The roots of the trees inertwine.

Ai Qing, 1940

As I made my way out of the city centre back to London I smiled as I saw this lovely, mid-century cubistic, stone-work tree installed on the side of a building.

Unfortunately the exhibition closes tomorrow, but to see a short time-lapse video of Ai Wei Wei's Trees being installed at Downing College click on the video below.