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With 100+ fences, Ai Weiwei will make New Yorkers 'Good Neighbors'

Fences are political constructs that divide us from our common humanity, the artist argues.
A rendering of one of Ai Weiwei's fencesPublic Art Fund

In an increasingly divided world, Chinese artist Ai WeiWei wants to reclaim the physical barriers that keep us apart.

This October, Ai will erect over 100 fences across the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, collectively called “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.” Created with New York City’s Public Art Fund, the project was inspired by the ongoing immigration crisis and the fight over the U.S.-Mexico border wall, and will reclaim the metal wire fence as the raw material for his art.

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“Ai will create striking installations that draw attention to the role of the fence as both a physical manifestation and metaphorical expression of division,” the Public Art Fund said in a statement. “In this way, he will explore one of society’s most urgent issues, namely the psychic and physical barriers that divide us, which is at the heart of debates about immigration and refugees today.”

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Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” will be on view Oct. 12-Feb. 11, 2018 in “unexpected urban contexts” like rooftops, alleys, bus shelters and more “as if growing out of the existing urban landscape, while also changing how we perceive our environment. Rather than impeding daily life, the fences will serve as powerful metaphors in a city that has long served as a gateway to the United States for millions of immigrants.”

The sites including Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side, The Cooper Union at Astor Place, JCDecaux bus shelters in Brooklyn, Central Park’s Doris C. Freedman Plaza and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens.

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Ai is an immigrant himself who studied art at Parsons in the 1980s and was held as a political prisoner in China for fear of his cultural influence. His work has long focused on the plight of refugees, including an exhibit last fall called “Laundromat” of clothes and personal items he salvaged from an abandoned refugee camp on the Greece-Macedonia border.

Fences, Ai said in a statement, are “a tool in the vocabulary of political landscaping,” meant to evoke notion of borders and security. “Good Neighbors” is about remembering that, ultimately, this notion is artificial: “What’s important to remember is that while barriers have been used to divide us, as humans we are all the same. Some are more privileged than others, but with that privilege comes a responsibility to do more.”

 
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