Saturday, 14 May 2011

Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals at Somerset House

Yesterday (Friday, 13th May) London's pigeons bathed in Somerset House's cool fountain waters and sated themselves on the crumbs falling off the tourists' paninis. The birds didn't seem impressed by artist Ai Weiwei's twelve bronze animal heads but at least they hadn't embellished the sculptures with their trademark tags.
   However, tourists and human rights activists are flocking to the Fountain Court at London's Somerset House to see Weiwei's pieces. The heads recreate the Chinese zodiac sculptures that once surrounded the imperial fountain of Yuanming Yuan in Beijing. 
   Somerset House's wildly optimistic What's On guide says "Ai Weiwei and guests will give an accompanying lecture to coincide with the Circle of Animals...Zodiac Heads installation". Currently, Ai Weiwei's whereabouts are unknown. Chinese authorities arrested Weiwei on April 3. The Chinese government labelled him as a "criminal suspect". 
   People throughout the Europe and the United States have turned Weiwei into a 'hero' of human rights. Flustered governments have voiced concern and dismay at this apparently blatant misuse of state power by the Chinese government. 
   But will such apparent official distaste invoke major foreign policy changes towards China? Boycotting Chinese products, services, markets and investment opportunities doesn't seem likely. China's plentiful supply of cheaper labour remains extremely attractive to European and American manufacturers. Chinese investment in the residential and commercial property markets of European and American cities is highly lucrative for players in the development game. 
   Despite well-intentioned people turning the Somerset House installation turning into a de facto shrine to Weiwei and human rights, London sits right at the heart of much government shedding of crocodile tears for Weiwei. Earlier this week, I heard one property developer describe how members of the Middle East's rich and powerful tyrants, increasingly worried by threats of revolution, are seeking safe havens for their vast fortunes by investing heavily in 'super-prime' residential property in Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea. 
   Apparently, the property developer said, there's a market catch-phrase circulating that says "every time a rebel mortar bomb explodes in the Middle East, another ten pounds sterling is added to the value per square foot of super luxury apartments and offices in central London". 

Photos: Copyright Paul Coleman 2011 (No re-use without permission).
Paul Coleman, London, May 2011.

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