For the contextual studies module of my course I have to write a 2,000 word essay comparing two artists. I have decided to use one of my favourite and one of my least favourite artists for this essay; Ai Weiwei and Banksy. I have decided to use these artists because of my very strong opinions of them both, and I want to analyse the impact that they have on their target audience and culture. Both Ai Weiwei and Banksy create art in order to make political statements usually opposing the government. Although they are both from completely different cultures and create artwork in different mediums, the aims of their works share similarities. Where Banksy forced himself into fame using street art and actually sneaking some of his work into galleries, similarly Ai took no caution and came into the world wide public eye when he was imprisoned by the Chinese government in 2010. Ai is not only viewed as an artist, but also as a political activist, which I believe shows the undeniable power of his work. He has commented that ‘Modern Chinese cultural history is one that scorns the value of the individual; it is a history of suppressing humanity and spirituality.’ From this quote alone you can understand why Ai’s work is so important to Chinese culture as change is vital in this society, whereas Banksy is known for ‘exposing the many hypocrisies of modern life.’ which in comparison to Ai’s work seems quite insignificant and petty.
One technique that both artists have used is the defacement of cultural artefacts. For example Ai has produced a series of ceramics such as the Han Dynasty Urn with Coca-Cola Logo, in which he destroys a historical artefact that has been dated back to around 206BC, with an iconic branding of the modern era. The way in which he tackles this in a pop art fashion, shows how individualism and traditional techniques have been discontinued to make room for mass production in a culture that seems obsessed with consumerism.
Conceptually this is similar to Banksy’s Vandalised Phone box where he has mutilated the phone box making it totally unusable, much like Ai has done, as he has destroyed a historical artefact that we can assume the state would want to preserve for museums to encourage tourism and therefore profit, so in practice this is an act to get under the governments skin by destroying what they want to preserve. The reaction to Banksy’s piece was much the opposite, a BT spokes person described it as ‘a stunning visual comment on BT’s transformation from an old-fashioned telecommunications company into a modern communications services provider” and reportedly BT requested to keep it in their head quarters. I think this is a prime example of how Banksy’s and Ai’s work differ, although the work was removed, Banksy lives in a culture where freedom of speech and creativity is encouraged, the work was reported on the news as another of his ‘audacious, clandestine pranks.’ This is only a small amount of the research that I have done so far, but currently I am looking forward to completing this essay as analysing artists work is one of my favourite things to do and something I believe to be vital to my own practice.