Floral Resistance to Authoritarianism and Incarceration in Porcelain Installations by Ai Weiwei and Cai Guo-Qiang | esse arts + opinions

Floral Resistance to Authoritarianism and Incarceration in Porcelain Installations by Ai Weiwei and Cai Guo-Qiang

99 - Printemps / été

In two recent site-specific installations, Blossom (2014) and Transience: Peony I (2019), Ai Weiwei and Cai Guo-Qiang, respectively, challenge the conventional view of flowers and porcelain as apolitical by using this subject and material to expose the cruelty of incarceration and hubris of authoritarianism. Cai’s fallen peony blossoms, recreated in gunpowder-blackened porcelain, juxtapose the vanity of an ancient despot’s desire for immortality against the cyclic impermanence of nature. Ai draws on the commemorative and restorative properties of flowers to bring hope to the former Alcatraz Hospital ward. Both artists demonstrate possibilities for political activation far removed from the superficial and sentimental.

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