Ai Weiwei: material designer

Chinese designer and dissident Ai Weiwei may be the most important artistic figure in the world of materials today.

This is no exaggeration. The designer is being under house arrest in his native country, but his visual works continue to engage the wider public with important messages. A new series of works deal with the way the world treats its most valuable physical commodity: our materials.

From sculptures to wall art, and from room-sized installations to tiny pottery, Ai Weiwei’s work is a showcase of creativity that provokes and inspires.

Firstly, from an experimental side. The direct relationship between material and object is the basis, but the designer takes each material further, by using it in unexpected ways. Bicycles with a glossy coating are stacked, multiplied and organized geometrically, providing cultural commentary on mass production.

Surely, even the most cynical passersby wouldn’t be able to resist being drawn into this visual, tangible discussion of material and design. A gas-mask made of marble – how can this not get you thinking? Whether that thought is about pollution in wealthy cities, or simply about the incongruity of the stone against the function, it is provocative work.

There are also handcuffs made of huali wood and precious jade that deal with the restrictions society creates for itself.

And there are recreations of famous works of architecture, such as the Tatlin tower, fashioned from led lights and gossamer thread. If nothing else, these pieces are a great introduction into the world of materials. With a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek visual commentary, the designs are well worth exploring.

Ai Weiwei’s work is on show at the Lisson Gallery in London (UK) until 19 July this year. Images via Lisson Gallery.