Manitoba

Ai Weiwei sculpture made of 1,254 bicycles goes up at The Forks

A 30-foot sculptural piece created from 1,254 bicycles by internationally acclaimed artist and activist Ai Weiwei is under construction in Winnipeg.

Celebrated international artist and activist's piece going up, bike by bike, all week

Forever Bicycles will be on display at The Forks for two years with the potential for a one-year extension after that. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A 30-foot sculptural piece created from 1,254 bicycles by internationally acclaimed artist and activist Ai Weiwei is under construction in Winnipeg.

The piece, which should be complete by the end of the week in time for the arts festival Nuit Blanche, is near the skateboard park at The Forks, against the backdrop of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Titled Forever Bicycles, the sculpture alludes to the bikes that flooded the streets of China, Ai's home country, during his childhood. Despite their seeming omnipresence, bicycles remained financially out of reach for many, including Ai's family.

His father, poet Ai Qing, was denounced by China's Communist Party in 1958 and his family was sent to labour camps, first near the North Korean border and then eventually in Xinjiang province.

They returned to Beijing in 1976 after the end of the cultural revolution.

The sculpture alludes to the bikes that flooded the streets of China, Ai Weiwei's home country, during his childhood. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The Forks was seen as a perfect location for the piece because of its history, the number and diversity of its visitors, its accessibility to the public and its focus on public art, a news release from The Forks says.

The view from Forever Bicycles to the human rights museum is intentional. Ai is known for his human rights-related activism; he's openly critical of the Chinese government's stance on that topic and democracy.

Much of his work focuses on similar issues in other parts of the world as well. He was awarded the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship in 2017.

Ai Weiwei is known for his human rights-related activism, being openly critical of the Chinese government's stance on that topic and democracy. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

His artwork and films have been displayed in Tokyo, Washington, New York, Israel, Mexico City and Inner Mongolia, among many other locations.

This is the first time it has been in Winnipeg.

"This is one of the most significant examples of contemporary public art in the world today. Its message is both profound and timely," Winnipeg philanthropist and arts patron Michael Nesbitt said in the news release. Nesbitt's donation to The Forks Foundation funded the loan and installation of Forever Bicycles.

"It's important that this work is being displayed at such a historic Canadian venue."

Ai is not in the city himself. The sculpture is being assembled by London, U.K.-based installers who have put up the piece in locations around the world.

A spokesperson from The Forks said the hope is to have Ai come to Winnipeg in the spring.

The mesmerizing pattern of 1,254 bicycles is being assembled this week in CN Field at The Forks. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The Forks CEO Paul Jordan said art helps fulfil the mission and purpose of the historic public space, which is used for celebrations and recreation.

"Our role is to be a meeting place, open and accessible to everyone. Everything we do is run through that filter," he said.

"Art is often seen as inaccessible to many. With the works coming to us, we are able to offer a space that's not only fun to visit, but thought-provoking, challenging and interesting for everyone."

Ai's sculpture will be at The Forks site for two years, with a potential extension of one year.

Sculpture made of 1,254 bicycles goes up at The Forks. (John Einarson/CBC)

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