Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei has created a gigantic art installation made of 150 tons of rebar that was salvaged from the site of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and then painstakingly straightened. The piece is meant to call attention to the state’s responsibility for the tragic consequences of the event and point out the inhumanities caused by the country’s economic boom.
Ai Weiwei’s Straight installation continues the artist’s longstanding involvement in social, political and cultural activism. The work was first exhibited at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington last year, and it was more recently expanded and adapted for a piece at the Venice Art Biennale. The low-lying 38-ton pile of steel rebar was collected at the earthquake site, and the artist and his team spent almost two years straightening out each of the bars.
For this year’s Venice Art Biennale, the rebar was laid out along the floor of one of the exhibition rooms of the Zuecca Project Space, a sixteenth century convent converted into a gallery. The undulating rebar landscape is punctuated by a jagged rift symbolizing the earthquake. The piece’s intricately detailed form requires visitors to crouch down in order to fully experience the artwork – a similar perspective to the artist’s earlier exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2010 entitled Sunflower Seeds.