by Giusi Tamburello
In lieu of an introduction
According to Leo Spitzer (1887-1960), when dealing with a literary text to observe it from the point of view of stylistic criticism it is necessary to find a starting point. The starting point can be considered as the element that differentiates what that very writer does with the language from what other writers of the same epoch, or of other epochs, do. If the same technique is applied to works of art, then there is too a “starting point” to be considered while keeping in mind that the starting point depends on the sensibility of the critic, and that it can be changed at will.
In “Odyssey”, the work of Ai Weiwei 艾未未 (1957 – ) presented in Palermo, at first gaze there are a few elements that attract the viewer’s attention: the dimension of the work, which develops over one thousand square meters of wallpaper; the fact that the wallpaper is transposed on the floor; the density of the drawings decorating the wallpaper. This paper will elaborate on these “starting point” elements, but before doing this, it seems necessary to underline some aspects which are characteristic of the artistic experience of Ai Weiwei, a contemporary Chinese conceptual artist well-known all over the world for his multi-faceted production as well as for his being politically engagée.
In the Chinese tradition, not differently from other cultures, the intellectual not only produces art but also represents the cultural consciousness of the country. In traditional China, intellectuals would later become employed as officials in the imperial government. They were selected through examinations based on the knowledge of books, the five Classics, characterized by their humanistic contents, and the position of official and intellectual would in most cases coincide. Therefore, in order to be loyal to the emperor, officials bore the burden of ‘informing’ him about what was not working in the deeds of the government. According to the emperor’s will, such sense of responsibility by the side of the official could be welcomed, or produce disappointment, followed by a subsequent order to exile, cause his detention or, in the worst cases, a death sentence.
Within this cultural frame, Chinese intellectuals have always preserved their right to dissent when convinced of the need for action in order to make things better for their Country. At the same time, they have consciously or unconsciously absorbed the idea of a kind of self-censorship as a means of self-preservation.
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