OpenArt in Örebro, Sweden is the 2008 brainchild of locals Mats Nilsson and Lars Jonsson. They dreamed of cutting-edge “art” on display in public locations. And guess what? Their dream came true…. and rapidly. Now in 2015, it is the biggest such event in Scandinavia. This year includes a focus on Chinese artists so no surprise that it features a major work by Ai Weiwei. It blows in the wind and blows me away!!
Ai WeiWei is known for confronting – and being arrested by – Chinese authorities. He questions everything about the culture of imposed conformity of his own country. This work, “Think different (How to hang workers’ uniforms)” consists of 375 coveralls in six different colours hung well above head height along Köpmangatan, an Örebro street. These are workers’ uniforms used in China in the massive electronics and computing manufacturing industries. The coveralls flap and flicker in the wind casting disconcerting shadows on the street below. Western people stroll beneath. I wonder if they are thinking differently.
So who is Ai WeiWei telling to think differently? Is it me, the Western viewer? Is it Chinese people? Is it the Chinese authorities? In fact, thinking about it, “Think Differently (How to hang workers’ uniforms)” does make me think differently. Here are some questions that run through my head when I look up at these rows of coveralls. I am reminded of assembly lines. How many Chinese people work to make products destined for the western world? Are they paid well? Are they aware of workers’ rights? What are they interested in? What are their home lives like? Or is Ai WeiWei telling me that the real price of western consumerism is paid by Chinese workers? This work is brilliant and provocative. I’m pleased I went back to Örebro!