Monday, 21 May 2012

Animal Signs

I adore these animal head sculptures.  There are twelve of them in the scheme that relates each year to an animal and its attributes - the Chinese Zodiac.   Last year the Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads sculpture by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei began its international tour in London, being displayed in the courtyard of Somerset House.

The sculpture comprises twelve monumental bronze animal heads, re-creations of the traditional Chinese zodiac sculptures which once adorned the fountain-clock of Yuanming Yuan, an 18th century imperial retreat just outside Beijing.  This original was designed in the 18th century by two European Jesuits at the behest of the Manchu Emperor Quanlong, the fountain clock featured the animals each spouting water at two hour intervals.  In 1860 the Yuanming Yuan was ransacked by French and British troops, and the heads were pillaged.  Today, seven heads - the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, horse, monkey and boar - have been located but the whereabouts of the other five are unknown.  

In reinterpreting these objects on an oversized scale, Ai Weiwei focuses attention on the question of looting and repatriation, while extending his ongoing exploration of the 'fake' and the copy in relation to the original.  The twelve heads are cast bronze and positioned on bronze bases.   Each head weighs around 800 lbs and measures approximately four feet high by three feet wide (the head and base together are approximately ten feet high).

The twelve zodiac animals are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.  

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