On Display: QAG, Watermall
Boomerang is an imposing example of internationally renowned Chinese-born artist Ai Weiwei’s strategy of working playfully across cultural contexts. Shaped after the iconic Aboriginal throwing tool, this oversized, intensely lit, waterfall-style chandelier hangs above the water in Queensland Art Gallery Watermall as if it were in a hotel’s grand foyer.
Ai Weiwei has a history of bringing everyday things into art museum settings. He has long acknowledged the influence of early-twentieth-century artist Marcel Duchamp, who famously brought otherwise banal objects — including a men’s urinal and an upturned bicycle wheel — into a gallery and declared them art, thereby creating the ‘readymade’. Duchamp’s challenges to convention opened up new possibilities for art, highlighting the ways in which an object’s value and meaning can shift when it changes context. Accordingly, Boomerang takes the chandelier, with its connotations of wealth and opulence, and enlarges it to absurd scale, shaping it into the motif of an object associated with exotic conceptions of Australia.
Boomerang was the centrepiece of Ai Weiwei’s participation in ‘The 5th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ in 2006–07, and he gifted the work to the Collection.
Ai Weiwei is a discerning connoisseur and collector of Chinese antiquities. He takes objects that are hallmarks of Chinese cultural excellence – Buddhist sculpture, Ming and Qing furniture, Neolithic and Han dynasty ceramics – and employing strategies of destruction, reconstruction and preservation, playfully transforms the originals to create ‘an ordered disorder’ 1 in works that challenge the authority of cultural value, meaning and authenticity.
Such a questioning, he proposes, exposes more fundamental truths: ‘[by] changing the meaning of the object, shaking its foundation, we are also changing our own condition. We can question what we are’. 2
1. Merewether, Charles (ed.). ‘Ai Weiwei Works: Beijing 1993-2003’. Timezone 8, Hong Kong, China, 2003, p.8.
2. Ibid., p.30.