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Ai Weiwei's 10-hour 'Chang'an' video comes to MOCA

July 10, 2009 |  6:30 pm

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Ai Weiwei, the provocative Beijing artist, has been in the news a lot recently for his political run-ins with the Chinese government. Earlier this month, the artist called for an Internet boycott to protest the Communist party's censorship practices. He has also blogged and tweeted about student casualties of  the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan. As a result, the government has started to crack down on the artist by pulling the plug on his blog and staking out his house.

In the U.S., seeing Ai's works of art is difficult, because he exhibits mostly in Asia and Europe. But starting Sunday, MOCA will show one of Ai's best-known creations, "Beijing: Chang'an Boulevard" (2004), a 10-hour video installation that catalogs one of the city's main roads from end to end. The work is part of the show "Collecting History: Highlighting Recent Acquisitions," which runs through Oct. 19 at the museum's Grand Street location.

MOCA acquired "Chang'an Boulevard" in 2008 in a partnership with East West Bank, and will show the single-channel work on a 19-inch LCD monitor. The purchase was made shortly after the video was shown at the Morono Kiang Gallery in downtown L.A. as part of a group exhibition highlighting Chinese video artists.

Shot in one-minute increments, Ai's video obsessively documents daily life along Chang'an Boulevard, a thriving road that bisects the capital city along its east-west axis. ("Chang'an" literally means "long peace.") Ai and his team of videographers stopped at 50-meter intervals to record each fixed shot. The result is an impassive yet revelatory videologue that charts the blood flow of Beijing through its supermodern heart to its impoverished extremities.

When I interviewed Ai in 2007, he said, "I don't care if people watch it all the way through. I can't even watch it after I've edited it. I don't make videos for galleries or museums. Not even for people to look at. I make it for the dignity of the work itself."

Ai has shot similarly themed videos about Beijing's ring roads, a system of super highways that envelop the city in concentric circles, but "Chang'an" remains the only one in the loose series to be shown in the U.S.

-- David Ng

Photo: Ai Weiwei's "Beijing: Chang'an Boulevard." Credit: Morono Kiang Gallery

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