Art Review Ai Weiwei "Laundromat" at Deitch Projects
by Sarah Hall MFA 2017
The Ai Weiwei show ‘Laundromat’ is located just above Canal on Grand Street, across the street from Soho Art Supply. This show is only one of four Ai Weiwei shows going on in New York City currently; all of them commenting on some kind of human rights issue that is far away from America, I’m sure. However, at first glance the show ‘Laundromat’ does not necessary allude to an altruistic subject matter. Even when strolling by the space on a beautiful Saturday afternoon one does not get the impression that the show is about humanity’s inhumanity. Through the smudge free, bulletproof glass of the Deitch Projects' gallery, one can see rows of clean clothing meticulously organized by size and type. Each rack is labeled with a sign at the top. The location suggests nothing more than another high-end clothing store in the crux of Soho. But this first impression is shattered after noticing the revolutionary brand of Ai Weiwei above the entrance.
Upon entering the smell of fabric softener hits my sinuses, my eyes go watery and I am immediately engulfed in a forest of clothing racks. Nostalgia throws my mind back to childhood fun, deep in the clothing racks of 1990’s department stores. It’s the overwhelming images that cover the walls like wallpaper that distracts me from my memories. These images are selfies of Weiwei himself taken with the many refugees he met on his travels. It very effectively mirrors the many visitors taking endless selfies of the show. In fact ‘Laundromat’ presents the viewer with so many metaphorical ‘mirrors’ that it relates more to a psychological funhouse for the id than a contemporary art space. Another ‘mirror’ being the endless lines of tweets plastered to the floor. The visitors to the space were unknowingly replicating their normal phone worship, walking around with their heads down and eyes plastered to the floor reading the tweets that people blindly post on social media.
The most terrifying truth that I was faced with manifested itself in the form of a projected video in the corner of the room. Leading up to the projection were rows of cleaned and polished shoes. The video was on a loop. It was footage of obtaining the clothes and how the show was constructed as well as footage from several different refugee groups and their travels. It depicted the refugee families struggling to travel through the terrain as well as dozens of camera people, who represent news outlets, following them. Surrounding them and getting right in their faces to get a good angle and an emotive shot that didn’t include the other camera people all scrambling for the same thing. It was like watching flies come and go to a dead rotting corpse with functioning arms that slowly drag it along, climbing over rocks and through jungle, leaking out behind it a trail of brown liquid that only attract more flies to its location.
I left the show in the same way I came in, watery eyes and bad taste in my mouth. I knew that even though this show was made to inform people, privileged people, of the situation abroad, that nothing would change. These people are being used for the western world’s continuous and exponential need for consumption of all types no matter the outcome or who is hurt in the process.