How do artists respond to a world in flux? In what ways do artists act as agents of change, and what kinds of aesthetic choices do they make? Change explores these questions through the works of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, American photographer Catherine Opie, and Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui.
The episode follows Catherine Opie during photo shoots of scenery and people, capturing her ongoing investigation of the ways in which photography both documents and gives voice to social phenomena in America today. At the core of her investigations are perplexing questions about relationships to community, which she explores on multiple levels across all her bodies of work. Whether documenting political movements, queer subcultures, or urban transformation, Opie’s images of contemporary life comprise a portrait of current America, which she often considers in relation to a discourse of opposition.
El Anatsui’s sculptures are mutable in form, conceived to be so free and flexible that they can be shaped in any way and altered in appearance for each installation. Working with wood clay, metal, and – most recently – the discarded metal caps of liquor bottles, Anatsui breaks with sculpture’s traditional adherence to forms of fixed shape while visually referencing the history of abstraction in Africa and European art. The colourful and densely patterned fields of the works assembled from discarded liquor-bottle caps also trace a broader story of colonial and postcolonial economics and cultural exchange in Africa, told in the history of cast-off materials.
Ai Weiwei’s associates speak on his behalf about Weiwei’s controversial art and his position as a provocateur and dissident. Weiwei infuses his sculptures, photographs, and public artworks with political convictions and personal poetry, often making use of recognizable and historic Chinese art forms in critical examinations of a host of contemporary Chinese political and social issues. He also employs sarcasm, juxtaposition, and repetition to reinvigorate the potency and symbolism of traditional images and to reframe the familiar with the minimal means.
Art21: Art in the 21st Century is an award-winning series of 24 programmes in which 100 contemporary artists explain their creations, their creative processes, and their perceptions of art. Available for the first time on DVD in the UK, Art21 covers a wide range of artists and contemporary visual art.