“…a Message for London”

Art is visual. We, the viewing audience and the artists we choose to look at, are communicating to us through our eyes and their eyes! Whatever time we are awake and conscious each day, we are processing our perception of our world through our eyes first. But some artists, like the Chinese dissident artist Ai WeiWei, are beginning to understand how our time—the Covid-19 Pandemic era of 2020—has potentially caused all of us to possibly re-think our reliance on perception exclusively.

Ai WeiWei was driven out of his studio in China without any rule of law to protect his interests. With his passport finally, in hand, Ai WeiWei left his ‘motherland’ China and sought refuge in Berlin, Germany. Ai WeiWei recognized that Germany was not friendly to immigrants—especially to those who did not speak German fluently, so the dissident artist left Berlin for England. WeiWei quickly settled in Cambridge where he took over an under-utilized warehouse and transformed it into a large studio and residence for his work and his family.

Ai WeiWei also purchased display time on a large digital display screen in Piccadilly Circus, which is in central London and heavily trafficked with cars and pedestrians, for his latest project. He will project a series of images from his artworks and political films that will run for a month. The focus of his “images” will be the 2008 earthquake in the Sichuan province of China and the corrupt building practices that resulted in the deaths of many young students in badly constructed schools that collapsed on them during their school day. Ai WeiWei is using the large digital screen to get people’s attention during October. Still, he also realizes that size, scale, color, music, and movement may not be enough to register on the viewer’s conscious state. Ai WeiWei states: We are flooded with images now. There is so much information coming at people, many of them shocking images, that people don’t feel much emotion anymore…People have lost their sensitivity and their aesthetic judgment, and so we will not learn anything meaningful from this pandemic, which is pretty sad.” (Vanessa Thorpe, Ai WeiWei on China, free speech—and a message for London, The Guardian, 4 October 2020)

What are your thoughts on dissident artist Ai WeiWei and his message for London—and the whole world in essence?

Ai WeiWei in London
Ai WeiWei Message Board in Piccadilly Circus, London

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

28 Comments

28 thoughts on ““…a Message for London””

  1. I completely understand, and almost resonate with Ai WeiWei’s message. In a world of rapid information through social media, I feel as though information is skyrocketed at us, all around the world, at such quick paces that I don’t think our brains have time to fully adjust to. Seeing the world fall apart all around us in such a intimate way, while it can be informational and revolutionary that we can even do this, our mental capacities are not meant to handle so many tragedies, and then immediately whiplash back into happiness.

    I think our comprehension of the pandemic has certainly been affected by this as well. We spent the first month-or-so panicking about it, but now that its been several months, we’re almost numb to it, despite the fact that its the worst its ever been here in America!

    To say that we will entirely lose our sensitivity and not learn anything, while hyperbolic, I do think it can apply to certain people. I have been educated and re-taught things thanks to the pandemic and activist movements, and to say that I’ve not learn anything is just false. I am not everyone, though, but I will say that despite maybe the numbness/lack of sensitivity, I have learned a lot.

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  2. I think that what WeiWei is doing is very powerful. I feel like as artists it’s partially in our duty that when we have a voice we need to push issues to the forefront of whatever society and help continually influence and create change. This becomes apparent in our generation of many musicians speaking about different topics and it comes the same with WeiWei taking up time on the big screen in London.

    What WeiWei states about the flooding of information I feel is partially true. I feel like through consistent exposure to content people do generally become numb to issues and situations that may be more detrimental than they would think. I also think though that that is more caused by the corruption of media and outlets in our day and age rather than the individual themselves. I feel like media today guides a lot of peoples’ perspectives and brings light to topics that they deem story worthy. Once news isn’t credit worthy anymore, it doesn’t gain any coverage anymore and that’s where the general population’s disconnect from serious topics comes from.
    On the individual level though, I would have to disagree. I think people inherently want what is good and are sensitive but the media creates different perceptions.

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  3. I agree with WeiWei statement that information, news, and shocking images are constantly being hurled at us. While we are barely trying to process one thing, something new comes to take our focus away. We aren’t given the proper amount of time to process the trauma around us. I feel like many people have already lost focus from how tragic this pandemic really is, and have moved on because new distractions keep coming in. WeiWei is self-aware that he himself knows that his images may not be enough to be registered in the passerby’s mind.

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  4. In my opinion, the actions WeiWei is taking is to spread a message that needs to be spread. Sometimes it can be easy for society to look the other way when uncomfortable or sad conversations are brought up. People need to be forced to look at the reality of situations and art is the best way to do that. Shock is hard to achieve because people have become desensitized to things these days. Weiwei knows this but still pushes to send the message he wants to send.

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  5. Though I find it incredibly sad to acknowledge, I fully agree with Ai WeiWei’s opinion that much of the world is desensitized, many people not even fully realizing it because it is the “norm” nowadays. With so many forms of news and media constantly available to the public via internet, TV, radio, etc, there is never a time we are fully unaware of the happenings of the world, that be on the global or local scale. I feel as though this desensitization of the world had already happened in years prior, but now with all the events of 2020, from the pandemic, to economic and civil unrest, injustices in other countries, to the stress of the election, there is so much overloading the mind and the senses that we have quickly gotten “used to” the chaos. Now we will potentially be even more unphased when watching movies, shows, alongside real documentaries or real-time events than we already where, perhaps leading to less (or more…) censorship for the public.

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  6. I understand it completely England is a centerpiece for all artists everywhere. In fact, the entire city is a work of art.

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  7. I agree with Ai WeiWei’s message and his use of his art in an effort to snap people out of this desensitized state. I think that while the media has been an incredible way to stay connected to others and an opportunity to educate oneself on current issues that one might not have been exposed to previously, it can lead people to experience “burn out.” This is completely understandable, however, I think that often people continue on in this state of not truly listening or paying attention. They don’t take a moment to recenter themselves and their focus on what is truly going on around them, good or bad. When this occurs, people stop learning and growing in a way that is meaningful, in a way that could positively contribute to a cause. It is important to recognize this feeling of oversaturation and move past it so that people can continue to stay connected and support one another. I believe that Ai WeiWei’s message is one way to achieve this.

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  8. Ai Wei Wei is an incredible artist and a respectable man. I think the way he approaches art comes from a very personal point of view of what he witnessed over the years. Ai Wei Wei shines a light towards many issues and things that often go unnoticed or don’t get much attention for the most part. His statement about how we are flooded with images and information nowadays is something that I understand completely. With the whole pandemic and other issues that arise, we started off with a deep panic but now it’s become the new normal. I do agree that there are those who completely lost the feeling to express emotion due to the pandemic. It’s been eight months since and it’s progressively getting worse and worse. Personally, I have people around me that have shut down, because there are so many other issues such as job searching during covid that just adds to the stress and beats them to a corner.

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  9. There is no doubt that Ai Wei Wei is out to make a statement. His mind set regarding the world, and his art reminds me a lot of Shepard Fairey. The viewpoint of questioning everything, consuming the world with a grain of salt. The very anti-government type of way of operating. As stated in the beginning, these types of artists are out to make people really think about something, to think for themselves for once, and to ultimately make a statement regarding a certain social issue. There is no denying the Pandemic has altered the ways in which we operate. This being for the better for some, while other, it’s been for the worst. I’ve even noticed it within myself at times, that this pandemic has made up consume more than ever, simply because we are left to our own devices more than ever. The term doom scrolling has been popping up more and more recently and this is exactly were people have come to fault. Over consumption isn’t necessarily bad, IF, and I mean if, what you are consuming is good energy and positivity. To me, it appears that Ai Wei Wei is using something we are all a little too familiar with to evoke some sort of awareness and/or emotion. To get us, the people of the world, to pay attention to the things that are actually happening outside of this little device we have become so glued to.

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  10. I find Ai WeiWei’s message very impactful and would definitely agree that we have become so desensitized to various forms of information. The access of the media and visual arts has become so instant that it dilutes the impact of art no matter the size or message. It doesn’t resonate with the same powerful emotional experiences we first encounter with visual art, and it also relates to other forms of information that are overexposed. Especially now with repeated media exposure, it’s so easy for us to let messages we see come and go. I think that WeiWei understands this routine and has found a way to try to change this through his art by letting his audience know that our stories we tell and our voice are important and don’t deserve to be deprived in the society we live in today. His way of expressing himself and his story is very thought-provoking and left me thinking about how might we change our perception of the world before us.

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  11. I totally agree with Ai WeiWei’s sentiment on the desensitized public. Without even mentioning all that has happened this year when it comes to one major news story to the next and the flood of information that accompanies it this generation’s access to the internet plays a large role in Ai WeiWei’s statement. Having what is essentially the knowledge of our whole world in our pockets has lead to many changes, one such being the public’s exposure to art and shocking images. A couple hundred years ago the only way one would be able to see a work by Leonard Davinci would be to be lucky enough to somehow see one in person. Now, you can simply google a famous artist and you will be flooded with various master works that you can analyze and study for however long you want. On the opposite side though, this limitless visual potential can cause a very harmful form of desensitization. I read a story a while ago that the people responsible for animating the kill animations from the recent video games in the Mortal Kombat series had to look at and study videos and photos of dead animals in various graphic situations in order to animate and model what they needed to for the game. As a result the workers became desensitized to what they were seeing at an alarming rate, would have trouble sleeping, and would find it hard to interact with their pets because of images stuck in their head.

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  12. I partially agree and disagree with Ai WeiWei’s messages for London. To be specific, I do agree that people are losing their sensitivity, but I do not agree that it leads to a loss of aesthetic judgment. I believe that although an abundant amount of visual images make audiences become more and more insensible of the possible effects it can arouse, losing visual perceptions or any other perceptions are not the essential elements for aesthetic judgment. If there is a standard of how sensible you are for you to make aesthetically judge an image, I wouldn’t want to call that art for art can be judged in all different ways without a direct answer to it.

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  13. I completely agree Ai WeiWei’s statement saying that the general public is desensitized nowadays. Over these past couple of years, many people are becoming desensitized and are losing their senses of empathy and sympathy. With the ability to have the entire world in your pocket in the form of a smartphone, the overwhelming amount of information and images have made it so everyone has gotten used to what is now considered the norm, which wasn’t the case in past decades. Of course, people would eventually become desensitized to things such as deaths that aren’t related or are affecting them in any way. Sadly, many of people’s brains are wired so not only do they only just worry about themselves; they lose the ability to worry about another person’s wellbeing. I do think that people are getting better though now that they noticed how desensitized they have become. Many people I think are regaining their senses and emotions which is a good thing.

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  14. He shows that art is everywhere that in some places it is appreciated and valued like England and France. All artists have great taste in art because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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  15. I think his message is very true. We as people have become to used to so many bad things happening that it is another “okay what else ” for us. Nothing really shocks us anymore because its been a crazy year already. We have everything readily in our hand to see the whole world in one glance of a tweet or a instagram post that the world no longer is exciting. The world no longer makes us feel. As we get older we notice generations afer us become less caring and for that you do not know what the future will be like

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  16. My thoughts on Ai WeWei and his message for London and the world in essence is how important it is for him to do so to begin with. Any message for a good cause and awareness is always important and acceptable for the viewers to look at and be aware of. Especially if it’s from a foreigner from a different country who can bring awareness to another country who could have potential helpers is very appreciated. There is so much that the news doesn’t cover, especially to foreigners, so it is important that the artist or presenter is able to make their message spread as far as it can.

    There is always someone bound to see the message and take in the information. It’s interesting that I never really gave it much thought, but WeiWei makes a very good point in how unfazed we are becoming from the piles of bad news and getting used to it. It really is sad and it’s true that the more we get used to this, the more we are prone to learn nothing and accept anything the way it is with a negative attitude and not give in to help. It is unfortunate we are going through a pandemic and even I have become slightly unfazed and how many bad things are happening which feels so out of hand which I wish those things weren’t happening at all.

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  17. I agree with Ai WeiWei’s statement since people are so desensitized now. A great example is the progression of scary movies. Films such as “It Came From the Black Lagoon” and “The Thing” used to be so scary, but if you show these films to younger audiences who have seen the “Saw” series or “It” then they won’t be scared at all. We are shown so much information, like Ai WeiWei said, but to add onto it: we are shown more problems in the world almost every day in the news and social media that people loose their sense of apathy. Now with the pandemic, we all thought it couldn’t get worse when the year has proven us wrong again and again, so Ai WeiWei’s statement rings true and I hope his message can get across. Also, there is a documentary about Ai WeiWei on Netflix called “Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry” and I think everyone who can should check it out!

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  18. What are your thoughts on dissident artist Ai WeiWei and his message for London—and the whole world in essence?

    Dear Professor Tracy,

    “What’s so bracing about With Flowers is that Ai WeiWei might never have left the country again, but he intended to endure his punishment every morning with a statement—a declaration of persistence.” (ART 434: 艾未未 AI WEIWEI—WITH FLOWERS a Message for London)

    My thoughts on the dissident artist Ai WeiWei and his message for London is horror. Today when we have the internet and social media and to know that the government can censor you, it is abhorrent. It feels like Fake News. It shows you that we are very fortunate to live in the United States, where you can voice your opinion about the government without the recourse that Ai WeiWei has gone through. Imagine having your messages monitored and erased so that no one can see what is going on in your country. When Ai WeiWei gathered the names of 5,000 children who died from the 2008 earthquake, then take the beams that were used and made art from them to memorialize the event (because somebody did not construct the building properly). The government removes the information as if it did not happen. Or to be under house arrest and place a bouquet outside in the basket of the bicycle for 600 days, and finally get your passport back, leave China and find out that the government demolished your home as if you never existed. The flowers show both lives, which is beautiful, while at the same time showing death is inevitable. He is correct; viewers conscious state registers the horror but then move on, “which is pretty sad.” (Vanessa Thorpe, Ai WeiWei on China tree speech—and a message for London, The Guardian, 4 October 2020)

    Kindest regards,

    Sydney-Paige CeCe Kay

    Reference:

    Tracy, R. “…a Message for London”—ART 477 ART Since 1945, November 2020

    Tracy, R. “ART 434: 艾未未 AI WEIWEI—WITH FLOWERS”—Art 477 ART Since 1945, November 2020

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  19. Ai WeiWei is a popular artist in our time because of his ability to deliver a message. I think artists need to supply people with what they need to see, and not necessarily the publicly appropriate distraction. Ai WeiWei provides an example of this with the Message Board in Piccadilly Circus, London. In the past he has been labeled as a “dissident” for exposing corruption and immoralities, not just in China, but many other places in the world. The featured quote about “sensitivity” by Vanessa Thorpe, is accurate because I believe it delivers what needs to be seen. It asks uncomfortable questions about the value we can add to our culture by experiencing the pandemic. Are we focused on “meaningful” observations in our own unique worlds as artist? The giant billboard is just one message in the tilde wave of advertising we consume on any given day. As I understand it, his work often uses these massively abundant mediums. Ai WeiWei places a conversation in a place that we cannot ignore so easily. He understands what people are lacking, and delivers that proposition with his art.

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  20. Ai WeiWei is a very impactful artist and delivers strong messages. Regarding his statement, I sort of agree with Ai WeiWei. We are surrounded and introduced with many images on a daily basis, and this has desensitized people’s emotions toward them. With the constant exposure to shocking images, people become numb or insensitive towards the images and their meanings. We are constantly moving from one topic to the next, always being flooded with new information and images.
    I definitely agree with the statement that “we will not learn anything meaningful from this pandemic.” Even with the pandemic, at first people panicked and were cautious with it, but after time people have become insensitive and take the pandemic less seriously. While I agree with this, I feel like it applies to only some people not all. There are some who appreciate aesthetic and are learning from the pandemic situation.

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  21. I think Ai WeiWei is very correct in saying that we are overloaded by images. The Internet, and social media especially, has made it so that people are getting news and images from all over the world. It can be a bit overwhelming. It’s hard to care about every single issue and tragedy, when there is so much of it. Making sure viewers can understand your message can be one of the hardest things about being an artist, and if it’s not done well that message can end up fading into all of the other information we receive. Like WeiWei, I’m not sure how effective this project will be since people have grown desensitized to these kinds of things, but the fact that he is putting his message out there at all is great. It encourages people to take notice, and even if it’s not everyone, getting people to care and assist where they can is helpful.

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  22. My acquaintance with Ai Weiwei started with my admiration for his fearlessly voicing his ideas and art despite all the pressures and dignity at the “Ai Weiwei on Porcelain” exhibition in Istanbul. He is an activist artist who can express gin and his ability to observe the world wonderfully. While his opposition identity provides the ground for him to be a contemporary art artist, he uses a classical arts background. I fully agree with Ai Weiwei’s message on the pandemic. I believe he wanted to follow another approach after these words by bringing a more compelling perspective to this pandemic process. The artist offered 10 thousand masks with sunflower seeds, a middle finger, and mystical monster drawings on eBay to raise funds for the COVID-19 humanitarian and human rights efforts undertaken by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and Refugees International. For those who want to look, I add the link below.

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/AI-WEIWEI-MASK-SCREEN-PRINT-LIMITED-2020-MIDDLE-FINGER-HAND-ART-INK-ORIGINAL-NEW-/353156386416

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  23. I agree with the statement that Ai Weiwei made about viewers being overwhelmed with images within our everyday lives. I feel as if people have been desensitized to some of the bad things happening in the world, especially this year. While I do not agree this should be happening, I understand to an extent why many casual viewers may not pay attention. As designers and artists, I think we notice things that some others might not. I think his form of presentation is great however. The large screens between bustling traffic and pedestrians ensures that at least someone will look/listen to his message. While we all strive for our message to be seen by as many people as possible, I think it is still rewarding to change or effect the mindset of even one person.

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  24. I agree with Ai WeiWei’s statement. In a way, the majority are accustomed to the image mass. Setting his work in the busy street makes the message even more clear. People are just passing by and treat the tragic images as another advertisement on the TV. Yet I agree with Taylor’s comment, in a way, artists are all trying to get their message across and make a difference. Ai WeiWei’s presentation is tricky, too, you would never know if the people passed by start their research about the images at home. Some people will care in a way or another.

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  25. Jack Torres
    Professor Tracy
    Art 477 – 1002
    03 December 2020
    Final Paper
    Suzanna Langer once said, “Art is the creation of forms symbolic of human feeling.” I was fortunate enough to have gone to some of the Art museums at UNLV during the spring semester before covid happened and had us switch to online. This print is called Magic Carpet by the artist Mikayla Whitmore which I had the pleasure to see at the Marjorie Barrick Museum. This quote perfectly reflects Whitmore’s print due to the history and story it has which relates to a symbolic human feeling. This carpet was left outside at her partner’s grandmother’s house in Guam where the grandmother explained that it was set out as a walkway between her and her daughter’s house. Both houses were beside each other to have this carpet perfectly laid out to step on. It was to make sure their feet weren’t muddied when walking to each other’s house. The story may not be written explicitly on the print, but the story behind it helps reflect the quote in the creation of this print with the symbolism this carpet holds between Whitmore’s partner’s family.
    I was mesmerized by the print because of how “magical” this carpet looked from the environment around it with the grass growing against it and the added deterioration effect. The lighting in this print gives off the feel of a mystical/fantasy vibe yet has a calm atmosphere where an implied fog can be detected surrounding the carpet. The stains on this carpet really shows how long it has been out and sustaining all those muddy stains as it has been stepped on over and over and probably had shoes wiped against it. There is even a sense of the carpet being through rainy weather where it made it damp and soak up organic nutrients from the ground below it. It’s as if the carpet is also growing into the Earth and becoming one with the grass and conceal itself over the organic material. This carpet can even be thought as a small portal to another dimension or a safe travel to the other house.
    The overall composition with the way Whitmore captured this shot is very nice overall and nothing seems awkward or out of place. There is a nice balance with the positive and negative space between the surrounding grass and the carpet. The positive space in this print would be the carpet while the negative space is the surrounding greens; both the positive and negative can even be switched. Figure and foreground can also be seen in this print with the clear distinction of the figure being the star of the print which is the carpet and the foreground is the Earth it rests upon.
    Through Whitmore’s lens, we can feel the symbolism of this carpet that creates a walkway from one house to another. Langer’s quote proves how human emotions can create art through what is symbolic to them which is this magical walkway. It can look like a simple carpet with no meaning to others, but it’s a whole different meaning through someone else’s eyes with the history they have behind it. As an artist, it is their responsibility to be able to execute the meaning in their piece with what they want their viewers to see and understand from their perspective to the viewers. That responsibility partakes in the emotions a piece can give off or even the symbolism that is trying to be portrayed depending on the significance and importance it has which in this case; the carpet that served as a symbolic passageway between two family houses.

    Hal Foster once said, “The last hundred years or so have witnessed several major shifts in both private and public debates about art, its nature, and its functions. These shifts need to be considered in terms of other histories, too; with the emergence of new academic disciplines, new ways of thinking and speaking about cultural production coexist with new modes of expression.” This piece has no title, but the artist behind this print design is Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya which was found in the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at UNLV. This quote perfectly reflects the “new modes of expression” as generations go by now that we are growing up with technology.
    What is striking about this piece with the form of expression and message this piece is telling is the quote which reads, “THE FUTURE IS GENETICALLY ALTERED.” Not only is the font digitized, but there is a glitch effect that can be seen throughout the figure and the top left corner of the piece. This surrealism is an interesting way about the “new ways of thinking” as Foster says in terms of how our future is growing to be. There is a lot of talk and conspiracies of the government controlling us through vaccines or medication. Aside from the government, there are scientists who can genetically modify lots of things whether it be food or even in animals. Humans are capable of very oddly specific things that one wouldn’t have guessed without taking the time to stop and really think deep about which is what this piece has me thinking of when finding the meaning of why it was made the way it was.
    This design is showing a surrealistic approach at how humans can genetically modify things around us, or so our “future.” The genetically modified animal is the main figure focus where the top half is of a puffin while the bottom half is of a white cat in a sitting position. A small white scissors figure is seen on the side of the figure at the chest level to indicate and symbolize that it can cut through this animal just like how things can be altered through science. Taking things from one part and combining it with another whether it be the two animals such as creating a liger which is a lion and tiger or GMOs in food. There is a nice sense of contrast with the figure being in the middle surrounded by small white square pixels and distorted glitch effects. It is the center of attention and putting this information in our face as the artist intended it to be. The blue is also a nice cool color that helps recede anything in the background to let the figure shine through and be emphasized for the viewers focus.
    Not only is the scale of the figure an emphasis to this piece, but there is some emphasis with the warm colors on the figure and text that help bring it forward against the receding cool blue in the background. The text next to the figure on the right is a light orange to combat the blue and help bring it forward. While there is no indication of anything in the background for this figure to be sitting on, the cast shadow below its feet gives us the implied ground setting. The positive and negative relation in this piece is that the positive is the animal in the middle, glitch effects, and the text. The negative space in this piece is the blue that plays as the background.
    Art these days are becoming more digital than traditional and this piece from Phingbodhipakkiya supports Foster’s quote with the emergence of this “new” form of art with technology components. We are ever growing with more technology and that comes with new thinking in how we create our works of art or how to execute our pieces whether we use 2d or 3d aspects.

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  26. I agree with WeiWei that information is always being hurled at us. I don’t know if I would say that, “people have lost their sensitivity and their aesthetic judgment,” mainly because I feel that individuals are getting too sensitive. Everybody is so afraid to say anything anymore out of fear that they will be called out for not being respectful to others. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing it can often times be taken to far. This is why I think it is important to get away from technology and do something else. I know it can be hard especially now with school and covid but getting some fresh air and finding some other fun hobbies is essential.

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  27. I understand what the artist means, we see images every day and we do not think of what the meaning of the images are. We have become numb to the information thrown at us that we have learned not to care and feel that this striking information is just nothing. We should appreciate what is being shown to us on a daily basis and understand that many of the things we are seeing are real and it has an impact.

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  28. I remembered doing research on Ai WeiWei’s work, especially on the earthquake series of work. He is 100% correct that we are so desensitized as a society. We’ve seen and lived through so many catastrophes in our life time, especially even in 2020 alone. A lot of the images and quotes and data that we share on our social media can be performative a lot of the times. By displaying his name and the date in large text in the middle of such a commercial space is different to say the least. Everything is so “in-your-face” with advertisements in the Piccadilly Circus. My personal experience at Piccadilly Circus was overwhelming. There were so many things happening and a lot of things were shallow consumeristic culture. Having a thought provoking and activism in the middle it can stand out and bring attention to something that actually important.

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