Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads - Ai Weiwei
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads - Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei's animal heads unveiled in Toronto

Heads depict contemporary China's relationship with its history and how that's been eroded says curator

Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads was unveiled to applause and cheers outside Toronto City Hall yesterday. Organised by the Art Gallery of Ontario and Tokyo's Mori Art Museum, the large-scale artwork offers a reinterpretation of the 12 animals that represent the Chinese zodiac. It will be displayed in the reflecting pool at Nathan Phillips Square in advance of the Art Gallery of Ontario's upcoming show Ai Weiwei: According to What? opening on August 17.

The zodiac's animals were famously depicted in bronze as part of an elaborate fountain that Jesuit missionaries designed for the Summer Palace in Beijing. During the 1860 Opium War, British and French troops set the palace ablaze and plundered the bronze heads. Ai Weiwei's artistic interpretation of this event has previously been exhibited in New York, LA, London Sao Paulo and Taipei.

 

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"They are works that Ai Weiwei made in response to a series of works that were done in the late 1700s and taken away to Europe during the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century," explained AGO director Matthew Teitelbaum at the opening. "He, in a sense, has repatriated them by remaking them and having us think about the relationship of contemporary China to Chinese history, and how it has been eroded by its relations with other countries."

 

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The heads are installed in order according to the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Standing three metres high, each one ranges in weight from 680 to 950 kilograms, supported by a marble base weighing up to 450 kilos. Their combined weight of over 20,000 kilos necessitated consultation with a structural engineer for installation in the city's reflecting pool.