Ai Weiwei Brings His Controversial Life Vest Installation to Vienna

The criticism didn't stop him from staging a new work at Vienna’s Belvedere Palace.

Ai Weiwei’s F. Lotus installation at Vienna’s Belvedere Palace. Photo via @aiww Instagram.

Ai Weiwei is back at it. Despite the mixed responses to his intervention in Berlin last February, for which he attached 4,000 life jackets used by refugees to the Konzerthaus concert hall, the Chinese artist and activist has done it again.

This time, at Vienna’s Belvedere Palace, where he has installed 1,005 life jackets floating in the estate’s baroque pond, the AFP reports.

Aptly titled F. Lotus, the piece is formed of 201 rings each holding five life jackets found in the Greek island of Lesbos, where Ai has set up camp. The rings are arranged to resemble the letter “F” and float in the pond like (you guessed it) lotus flowers.

“There are more than 500,000 life jackets left on [Lesbos] and it looks like a landscape,” he told AFP reporters. “It is something so related to individuals. It could be the last thing you grab when you have to escape.”

Ai’s string of artworks and actions to protest against the refugee crisis in Europe have generally not been well received.

When he staged the piece at the Konzerthaus in February, one reader commented on a Der Standard article: “It would have been more useful to send and distribute [the life jackets] in north Africa.”

A few days earlier, Ai came under fire when he recreated the tragic image of the drowned three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body washed up on a beach near the Turkish town of Bodrum in September 2015.

Amid a huge social media backlash, Guardian editor David Batty called the stunt “lazy, cheap, crass,” while academic Heather D’Cruz said the image was “disrespecting Aylan Kurdi.”

Not that Ai seemed to care too much. He has continued to address the crisis in artworks and actions, like organizing a performance for a young Syrian pianist at the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greece-Macedonia border, or getting a haircut there as a symbolic gesture.

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