Ai Weiwei + Herzog & de Meuron – ‘Hansel & Gretel’
The sparkplug artist fuses forces with Herzog & de Meuron for an immersive adventure into digital mass monitoring.
During the 2008 Peiking Olympic Games, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei won bucket loads of praise for The Birds Nest stadium — a design collab between the fiery Chinese artist and Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. Four years later, he had fallen from grace in the autocratic eyes of China’s governing elite, and was placed under house arrest for prodding and provoking the authorities through his subversive art and carping social media. While in ‘home detention’ he launched WeiWeicam.com, a self-initiated surveillance project, staged to ‘aid’ his authoritarian overlords and mock/subvert the state’s Orwellian vibes.
Currently in New York City, Ai is re-united with Herzog & de Meuron at the Park Avenue Armory in an eerily playful interactive exhibit that examines the surveillance state, personal freedom, privacy, civil liberties and “what it means to exist in our post-modern, Kafka-esque digital commons.”
Titled ‘Hansel & Gretel’, the installation is characterized by curators Tom Eccles and Hans Ulrich Obrist as “a dystopian forest of projected light where the floor rises up, as if lifted by an invisible force, and visitors are tracked by infrared (‘FLIR’) cameras and surveyed by loitering drones capturing their patterns and movements.”
“Here the breadcrumbs of the famous Hansel and Gretel fairy tale are not eaten by birds,” the creators explain, “but rather digital crumbs are gathered and stored, reminiscent of Ray Bradbury‘s really relevant 1953 sci-fi novel ‘Fahrenheit 451’, where an omniscient state surveils its citizens from the skies.”
Working with drone technicians and ‘tensor flow’/AI programmers, the artisans have installed a monitoring system, as well as elaborate infrared scanners/projectors that tracks visitors, collects their data, and then propagates their ‘avatar’ — i.e., a digital composite/reflection — for all to analyze, gawk over and take selfies of. Participants can lurk in the shadows to evade the Leviathan, but the experience works best “when it is treated as both a playful interaction and unnerving experience of what it is like to be constantly monitored and analyzed.” Welcome to Ai Weiwei‘s dystopian ‘Surveillance Zone,’ where Big Bro incessantly stalks you and your identity is live streamed artsy-fartsy style.
For a $15 entry fee, expect to get scanned and electronically archived, and scrutinized by hidden human and high-tech eyes. Indeed, the experience — part Orwellian and part Kafka-esque — applies to much of Ai’s experience over the past few years. This, he said, is “how the regime works, and how totalitarian society is structured. It’s there, but it’s not there. It’s not there, but it is there.” Edward Snowden and Julian Assange would probably feel right at home. Anyway, check out ‘Hansel & Gretel’ at NYC’s Park Avenue Armory. The exhibit is on until August.
VIVISXN MEDIA – Art + Culture + News