Circle of Animals… Zodiac Heads is now on display, free of charge, at Nathan Phillips Square. The installation, which will be in place until Sept. 22, precedes the Art Gallery of Ontario’s presentation of the exhibition, Ai Weiwei: According to What? which opens Aug. 17 to October 27. It will be the only Canadian venue on the exhibition’s international tour.
According to the Zodiac Heads website:
“Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei has reinterpreted the twelve bronze animal heads representing the traditional Chinese zodiac that once adorned the famed fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat in Beijing. Circle of Animals… Zodiac Heads is the artist’s first major public sculpture project.”
“Designed in the 18th century by two European Jesuits serving in the court of the Qing dynasty Emperor Qianlong, the twelve zodiac animal heads originally functioned as a water clock-fountain, which was sited in the magnificent European-style gardens of the Yuanming Yuan. In 1860, the Yuanming Yuan was ransacked by French and British troops, and the heads were pillaged. In re-interpreting these objects on an oversized scale, Ai Weiwei focuses attention on questions of looting and repatriation, while extending his ongoing exploration of the ‘fake’ and the copy in relation to the original.”
“Circle of Animals… Zodiac Heads is the centerpiece of a global, multi-year touring exhibition that will be presented in the United States, Europe, and Asia. The official world tour for Circle of Animals… Zodiac Heads by Ai Weiwei launched in New York City at the historic Pulitzer Fountain at Grand Army Plaza in May 2011.”
The heads were unveiled at Nathan Phillips Square’s reflecting pool yesterday. They have been installed according to the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
The heads have been previously exhibited in London, Los Angeles, New York, Sao Paulo, Taipei and Washington, D.C., among other cities, and they’re already making quite the splash in Toronto, with countless tourists and Torontonians posing alongside their favourite sculpture.
Ai, the aforementioned artist, first caught the ire of the ruling Communist regime in China when he criticized the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a mass exercise in propaganda for a regime committed on denying its citizens basic human rights. At the time, Ai was a collaborating architect on the famous Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing.
But he didn’t stop there. He further criticized the rigid Chinese government in the aftermath of the devastating Sichuan earthquake of 2008, when thousands of people, many of them schoolchildren, died. Ai launched a personal inquiry, challenging the governments public claim to the number of children who were buried after their poorly built school buildings collapsed.
On one trip to the region, he was attacked in his hotel room and savagely beaten by a group of plainclothes police officers. Later, when in Germany, for one of his exhibitions, he suffered a brain hemorrhage from the beating and he had to have life-saving emergency surgery.
He remains under constant surveillance by Chinese authorities at his home and studio in Beijing. But! You can follow him on Twitter.
This afternoon, I took the opportunity to take some photographs of the sculptures. I highly recommend that if you’re downtown to make time to view these wonderful installations.
In addition I also took some snapshots of the buildings around the area. I hope you enjoy.