Cork is one of the materials chosen by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to create original works in Portugal. Supplied by Corticeira Amorim, the world’s largest cork processing group, the genuinely Portuguese raw material was used in the work, Brainless Figure in Cork, a sculptural self-portrait by the activist. The work, produced by Amorim Cork Composites, Corticeira Amorim's Composite Cork business unit, from high density agglomerated cork, is part of the exhibition, Ai Weiwei - Rapture, that opened at the Cordoaria Nacional, in Lisbon, on 4 June.
Unlike a traditional sculpture, the preparatory work for Brainless Figure in Cork (91 x 81 x 148 cm) involved a CNC cutting machine to guarantee technical precision. A craftsman then sculpted several details that could only be fine-tuned using manual methods. As in the cork cycle, this artistic project is born from the combination of handmade work, state-of-the-art technologies and the grandeur of Nature.
These three realities run throughout Corticeira Amorim’s long history, as Cristina Rios de Amorim explains: “we always begin in the cork forests, that offer us this unique natural material – cork - that is capable of responding to the most demanding challenges. The cork oak tree is harvested once every nine years, without damaging it, with specialised labour that still uses traditional techniques based on experience and knowledge passed down from one generation to the next. With cork, we combine science, innovation and technology to create high added value products, which highlight cork’s sustainability credentials. Artists, designers, curators and architects are increasingly interested in cork and are creating a vast portfolio of products and applications. This includes well-established artists and emerging talents from different artistic disciplines”.
This is the second time that Ai Weiwei - one of the world’s most influential contemporary artists – is working with cork from
Amorim. The first occasion was in the context of the Serpentine Summer Pavilion in 2012, signed by him and the Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron. This was a circular structure consisting of about 100 pieces of furniture made from Portuguese agglomerated cork. The results spoke for themselves: it was the most visited of all the summer pavilions of the famous London art gallery.
The Ai Weiwei - Rapture exhibition comprises 85 works, including photographs, videos / films and installations, and large, medium and small-sized sculptures. On display at the Cordoaria Nacional until November 28, the exhibition will bring some of the Chinese artist’s most iconic works to Portugal, such as Forever Bicycles (2015), a monumental sculpture with 960 stainless steel bikes, Snake Ceiling (2008), a large snake-shaped installation made of hundreds of children's backpacks, in memory of the students killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, or the Law of the Journey (Prototype B) (2016), a 16-metre inflatable boat with human figures, alluding to one of the most recurring themes in the artist's work: the global refugee crisis. The other Portuguese materials used by Ai Weiwei to produce many of his original works include stone, tile and fabrics.