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Ai Weiwei, Safety Jackets Zipped the Other Way
courtesy of Instagram/@aiww

Ai Weiwei has designed a ‘democratic’ artwork you can assemble yourself

The instructions and materials are available from the artist’s collaborator, a German DIY shop

The artist and activist Ai Weiwei often uses unconventional materials in his work, whether that’s 14,000 life jackets (which he used to draw attention to the refugee crisis in 2016), a Han Dynasty urn, or the dust collected from his demolished Beijing studio.

The materials that make up his new artwork are no different, although they are much easier to get your hands on, since they’re stocked by a German DIY company, Hornbach, for a pretty affordable price. In fact, that’s the whole point.

The new artwork, titled Safety Jackets Zipped the Other Way – which comes in a variety of configurations that can be tailored to your own taste, or space – consists of a set of high-vis safety jackets combined with standard construction materials such as wall hooks and cable ties. These are assembled according to an Ikea-esque self-assembly manual (authentication certificate included).

“I made this work for the public,” says Ai Weiwei, in a video posted to social media today (February 11). “For the people who are not necessarily a museum-goer or an art collector. The meaning can be created by anybody.”

As for the meaning, like a lot of the artist’s work: “It’s simple, it’s direct, and it’s not pretentious.” 

“I really care about reality and what is happening today,” he adds. “All my work relates to political issues. And those issues are sometimes obvious, sometimes not so obvious. But the real issue is how we look at our culture and our so-called art practice.”

Besides referencing Ai Weiwei’s earlier artwork, Five Raincoats Holding Up a Star, from the 1980s, Safety Jackets Zipped the Other Way obviously confronts this issue of art practice (and collection) head-on. 

It doesn’t require any particular expertise to put together and, in total, is priced well below the millions that many contemporary artworks fetch (the cheapest version comes in at €150). The result challenges the value often ascribed to artworks through the skill of whoever fabricated them or their exclusivity. Its description, “art for everyone”, is pretty accurate.

“I hope that ordinary people can enjoy this work and not spend too much money, while being able to say, ‘I have this original work by Ai Weiwei’,” says the artist in an accompanying statement. “It will be perfectly made, which is not to my credit but to the designers and factories that produced these materials. What I am providing is the possibility.”