One thing that caught my eye and interest, though, was the amount of dead beetles locked in the tree-roots of the ‘Rocks and Trees’-installation (2009-2010) (whether or not it was intended, I care not).
For how long had the beetles survived in the installation, their artificial art-home through airports, gallery basements, packing and unpacking. Are they Chinese beetles or picked up in some storage room along the way, and does that make a difference? (they’re dead all the same) And how on earth did they get through airport security?
The little black bodies, lying belly up at the foot of the dead tree trunks nailed together to form a tree-figure, lend the interpretation of the work an extra dimension. The trees are obviously constructed, made up of different parts forcefully put together to form an ideal structure. The artificiality of the structure however, renders the single parts or branches unable to survive. Even the inhabitants of such an artificial construction will not last long.
To read ‘Trees’ as an allegory for the Chinese society, forcefully holding together very different geographical and ethnological communities to form an ideal united nation, is tempting. But it might be more fruitful, and even relevant, to look at the dead trees as a more general critique of ideology.
Few of us can get completely away from a desire for order and consistency, in which trees look like trees, cultures are recognisable as cultures, and Chinese art is about China.
What I got out of seeing Ai Wei Wei’s dead trees (and not least the additional dead beetles) was a feeling that this kind of thought hygiene might be very unfit to accommodate, or even take into consideration, real life.