Chocolate, Lard and Tea

Ai WeiWei’s A Ton of Tea, recently exhibited in Bristol, conjures up Chocolate Gnaw and Lard Gnaw (1992) by Janine Antoni. Although the two pieces address different topics, they coul be perceived as following the same metaphorical discourse, with Ai’s work retrospectively expanding on the interpretation of Antoni’s.

In an interview with MoMA, Antoni explains that “[Chocolate] seemed to embody desire for the viewer, and what happens if you succumb to that desire? You get fat. So I used fat as the material to make the second cube … The lard will begin as a cube and as the exhibition goes on, it will collapse on to the floor”. By extension, her cubes could be read as a comment on consumerism, saturation of greed overindulgence and the eventual collapse of capitalism.

As if following in Antoni’s steps, Ai’s A Ton of Tea “makes reference to post-war art history and globalisation, through the humble substance of tea, China’s oldest export” (caption), thus alluding to today’s economy, with the Sleeping Giant now waking up to take over in the lead.

Photos of Antoni’s work: foodforanimals.com, batcountryx.blogspot.com
Photo of Ai’s work: my own

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English, the ‘International’ Language – but for how long?

The ‘supremacy’ of English in the world of trade is a good excuse for native English-speakers not to learn another language. Let’s face it, why bother when you can go abroad and everyone there speaks English? The British don’t seem to be born linguists anyway, do they? And so on and so forth… We’ve all heard it and we’ve heard it all.

This complacency costs the UK £7.3bn each year in lost trade, which former Treasury Economic Adviser James Foreman-Peck calls “the tax on trade”. 75% of the UK trade takes place with countries where English is not the first language. (English is the first language for 6% of the world population only.) As Willy Brandt says, “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.”

Last year, the EU recruited for 308 jobs in Brussels, needless to say with language skills as a must. Only 1.5% of the applicants were British; 7 were successful. Can we expect to have an influence on the EU if we do not have a stronger presence in its offices?

Being insular isolates us culturally, economically and politically, and with the BRIC countries growing fast, the days of the English language’s ‘supremacy’ are counted.

Art for Ecology and Economy

Estuaire is a threefold biennale on the Loire estuary, between the city of Nantes and St Nazaire on the Atlantic coast of France. In 2007, 2009 and 2012, artists from around the world have dotted the river banks with their work, some of which will stay permanently. One such piece is Serpent de l’océan by Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping, a skeleton snake on the edge of the sea to be colonised by marine life at high tide and visible at low tide.

The estuary is known as an industrial area with a long history of shipbuilding. There are, however, large unexploited spaces, mostly marshes, where nature has remained intact. By taking art outdoors, Estuaire not only makes art accessible to all, it also encourages people to visit the area, has prompted the creation of cycle paths for eco-friendly access, and has brought a few small businesses such as crêperies and hostels.

Thanks to this contemporary art project, the area, which was previously perceived as dull and devoid of public interest, is now enjoying a novel wave of curiosity, a feeling of community and a developing economy, all revolving around a love of nature and sustainability.

This is a rare instance of wild land being used in a profitable manner with respect for the environment in mind. It has already raised interest from other European cities that may consider following suit. Meanwhile, Voyage à Nantes, the city’s next art project, will attempt to maintain the creative momentum.

Serpent de l'océan by Huang Yong Ping

Photo: AFP / Getty Images