SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE consists of artwork, photographs, and video related to Ai Weiwei’s activities surrounding the Citizens’ Investigation into the student deaths resulting from the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. A structural element of the investigation was Ai’s documentary film “Little Girl’s Cheeks,” which included interviews with the parents of the student victims. In 2009, Ai had his first major solo exhibition in Germany at the Haus der Kunst in Munich. He created “Remembering,” an installation of colorful student backpacks hung on the museum’s facade that spelled out the words of one grieving mother: “She lived happily for seven years in this world.” Ai also collected the mangled rebar from the collapsed school buildings and had them meticulously straightened in a work titled “Straight.”
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If you seek to understand your motherland, you are already on the road to becoming a criminal.
- Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist (b. 1957)
Zuoxiao Zuzhou, “⼀一顆⼼心 雲的南⽅方”
Little Girl’s Cheeks, 2009
“Citizens aren’t soft persimmons, and who you offend today may not be so easy to push around tomorrow. Don’t take and eat, and then turn around and feign ignorance.”
Ai Weiwei May 27th, 2009
On December 15, 2008, a citizens’ investigationn began with the goal of seeking an explanation for the casualties of the Sichuan earthquake that happened on May 12, 2008. The investigation covered 14 counties and 74 townships within the disaster zone, and studied the conditions of 153 schools that were affected by the earthquake. By gathering and confirming comprehensive details about the students, such as their age, region, school, and grade, the group managed to affirm that there were 5,192 students who perished in the disaster. Among a hundred volunteers, 38 of them participated in fieldwork, with 25 of them being controlled by the Sichuan police for a total of 45 times. This documentary is a structural element of the citizens’ investigation.
In Straight , Ai uses rebar recovered from the rubble of collapsed schoolhouses in Sichuan following the 2008 earthquake. The artist had every piece of mangled rebar straightened through a laborious process. The large divide in the piece is reminiscent of both a ground fissure and of a gulf between values. This massive work serves as a reminder of the repercussions of the earthquake and expresses the artist’s concern over society’s ability to start afresh “almost as if nothing had happened.”
For his exhibition at the Haus der Kunst, Ai designed a new work for the outer facade of the museum. The installation, titled Remembering, consisted of over 9,000 colored, student backpacks. The backpacks spelled out a quote in Chinese characters. The qoute read, “She lived happily for seven years in this world.” This quote was from a mother whose daughter died in the earthquake.