Brian Eno, Ai Weiwei to kick off National Gallery 2017 season

A series of new works by several artists will have a Grand Opening on March 16

The National Gallery is kicking off a new season, and the public is invited to the opening on March 16 at 7 pm at Veletržní palác in Prague 7–Holešovice.

The main work is Law of the Journey by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. There will also be a new work by ambient musician Brian Eno and Jan Nálevka called Moving Image Department #7: The Ship, and several new installations by other artists. Ai Weiwei's piece will be on display until Jan. 7, 2018. The Eno piece runs until Sept. 10, 2016. Eno and Ai Weiwei will both be in Prague for the opening.

Last year the National Gallery presented Ai Weiwei’s sculpture series Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads.

This year, he is back with a new site-specific installation called Law of the Journey. Ai Weiwei has created a monumental installation based on his concern for the global refugee crisis, which has seen him visit 40 refugee camps.

A 70-meter long inflatable boat with larger-than-life refugee figures will float in the Big Hall of Veletržní palác and will be complemented by Crystal Ball, a large glass sphere mirroring this object. It is the largest individual artwork he has ever created.

“When I first came to Lesbos, we found a half sunken boat there. I asked to be taken to it and sent the other people away. I wanted to experience what it was like to be there alone. It was not until then when I felt what it was like to be on a poorly equipped boat, all by myself, as an insect on a leaf in the middle of the lake. In the boat I found a baby bottle and a Bible soaked with seawater. That was when I decided to explore this, to go after all those thoughts that are in my head,” Ai Weiwei said in a press release.

Ai Weiwei wants to point out that the migration crisis divides modern society into “us” and “them.” He also is making a documentary film about the global refugee crisis that will premiere later this year.

The National Gallery is also presenting other works by Ai Weiwei including the European premiere of Laundromat. He collected clothing, shoes and other items left behind at a refugee camp. He laundered and organized them into an art installation.

At the entrance to Veletržní palác there will be a crystal candelabra titled Traveling Light and the entrance hall will feature Snake Ceiling, a large black-green snake created from 5,000 children’s backpacks commemorating the 2008 earthquake in southern China. Prague will also host his installation With Flowers created during his home confinement.

There is also an adapted version of Kneaded Knowledge: The Language of Ceramics, co-curated by Ai Weiwei and Dutch artist Edmund de Waal.

Ambient musician Brian Eno also presents his new project. The seventh chapter of the Moving Image Department has no moving image. Instead, the piece acts as a moving image generator, proposing an imaginary picture – a phantom – as a construction of sound and light.

Brian Eno's recent 25th-solo-album-cum-multi-channel-three-dimensional-sound-installation, The Ship, has been described by its author as a sort of musical novel – a loose story collage inspired by the Titanic sinking, World War I and random throwaway lines from emails and Eno’s writing, all remastered by an algorithmic text generator.

“Humankind seems to teeter between hubris and paranoia,” Eno states, and The Ship captures that anxiety. The three-part "Fickle Sun” is a eulogy to the waves of young soldiers left to rot in a Belgian battlefield while a cover of the 1969 Velvet Underground's “I'm Set Free” closes the soundtrack and leaves the listener with Lou Reed’s lyrics, “I'm set free to find a new illusion.”

“It was all pretty much normal until, at a certain point, I realized that I could sing the lowest note of the piece, which is a very low C,” says Eno. “Well, I've never been able to sing low C before. As you get older, you know, your voice drops, so you sort of gain a semi-tone at the bottom and lose about six at the top every year. That's what's happened to me. So I've suddenly got this new, low voice I can sing with, and I just started singing with that piece. And so it was the first time I thought, 'Oh, what about making a song that you could walk around inside?'” he said.

As an installation, The Ship is an all-immersive sonic environment, composed of vintage loudspeakers on monolithic structures in a dimly lit room. The voices are remastered by a computer program to receive “a sort of muted ghostliness.”

The exhibition also includes Brian Eno’s 14 Video Paintings. They tackle the subjects of a female nude and a city landscape in a genre of painterly portraiture. This work used, by modern standards, low-grade equipment that gave the images a hazy, impressionistic quality.

Eno was aware of the newness of what he was doing. "I was delighted to find this other way of using video because at last here's video which draws from another source, which is painting. ... I call them 'video paintings' because if you say to people 'I make videos,' they think of Sting's new rock video or some really boring, grimy video art. It's just a way of saying 'I make videos that don't move very fast,'” he said. 

“I like the idea of my music being treated like sound pictures. You don't sit and stare at paintings for three minutes, you can turn your back. Painters are not insulted by lack of attention, why should composers be?” he added.

Describing himself as a non-musician who advocates “theory over practice.” Brian Eno is best known for his pioneering work in ambient and electronic music as a musician, composer, record producer, singer, and visual artist.

He redefined minimalism with his 1978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports. He joined the band Roxy Music as synthesizer player in the early 1970s and collaborated with other musicians since then, including Robert Fripp and David Bowie. He helped popularize the American band Devo and performed on three albums by Talking Heads He also produced seven albums for U2 and worked on records by Laurie Anderson, Coldplay, Paul Simon, Grace Jones, James Blake and Slowdive, among others.

The spring exhibition program will include other site-specific installations by the renowned Czech-German conceptual artist Magdalena Jetelová, among others.

Ai Weiwei will also be giving a talk at the National Technical Library on March 15, though space is limited. You can read about that here www.facebook.com/events

For more about the Grand Opening of the National Gallery 2017 season visit www.facebook.com/events.

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