Year of the Rat

Curated by Cui Cancan, Year of the Rat is a part of Bangkok Art Biennale 2020 and marks as the first solo exhibition of Chinese Contemporary artist and activist, Ai Weiwei.
2020 is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese lunar calendar and the ​gengzi year in this sexagenary cycle. The rat is the first of the twelve zodiac animals.

Historically, ​gengzi years are far from ordinary. 1840 saw the First Opium War; the ensuing conflicts and changes served as a prelude for further transformation. In 1900, the Boxers burned churches and massacred missionaries and ordinary Christians, and Empress Cixi declared war on the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Austria. By August, the armies of the Eight Nation Alliance had taken Beijing. In 1960, sixty years ago, China was in the midst of a great famine. In that year, the “Rightist” poet Ai Qing was sent down to the Eighth Division of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in Shihezi, and Ai Weiwei lived there with his father for sixteen years.

2020 is another ​gengzi year. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, Wuhan announced the closure of the city because of a new coronavirus. Several months later, tens of millions of people around the world had contracted Covid-19. In the expanse of human civilization, 60 years is not a long time, but the vast majority of people will only see one such Year of the Rat in their lifetimes.

The Year of the Rat and the ​gengzi year give Ai Weiwei’s exhibition particular meaning. The ambiguity and suggestions associated with the Year of the Rat move in cycles. In one hundred years, there will be a new experience of time, space, context, and history.

The highlight works of “Year of the Rat” go to twelve zodiac animal heads, serving as a historical backdrop to the entire exhibition. This series fuses animal heads and Legos, two of Ai Weiwei’s familiar motifs, which are underpinned by two well-known but decidedly different historical periods. The twelve Lego works are an extension of Ai’s ​Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, ​which were in turn derived from the twelve zodiac heads that once adorned the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan). The originals were looted from Yuanmingyuan in 1860 by French and British forces and subsequently scattered around the world. Several of them have been collected and returned to Beijing. For Chinese people, these animal heads symbolize one hundred years of humiliation and they continue to activate nationalistic pride and anger.

Ai Weiwei is keenly aware of the political implications, and in replicating these animal heads, grandly displaying them as public works of art in more than forty Western cities, and modeling and mocking this discomfiting part of history, he offers his commentary on memories of this historical period.

Other works feature in this exhibition including Ring W and Ring M​, inspired by two ancient civilizations: the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and ancient Greek, The Defacing Marks on the Portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square in May 1989, that conveys provocative acts and unforeseen consequences, and more.

About Artist
b.1957 Beijing, China
Ai Weiwei is a Chinese Contemporary artist and activist. Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called "tofu-dreg schools" in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of "economic crimes".

Ai Weiwei is one of the most influential Chinese contemporary artists of his time.  His first Thailand exhibition – ‘Year of the Rat” opened at Tang Contemporary Art this month. Press was invited to meet the artist via video link to Portugal, where the artist was working on a new project.  

In this video, Weiwei answers questions posed to him by Bangkok journalists about this exhibition, his work and his passions. 

The exhibition is a collaboration of Bangkok Art Biennale and Tang Contemporary Art Bangkok. The video conference was made possible by the artist’s team and River City Bangkok.

‘Year of the Rat’ is showing at Tang Contemporary Art Bangkok until Thursday 10 December. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday 11:00am - 7:00pm (Closed Monday)