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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: April 2020

Six - Fragmenting


In Ai Weiwei’s 1995 ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’, the artist lets go of the vase he is holding at shoulder height and remains impassive as it hits the pavement and breaks into dozens of pieces (Figure 6.1). This deliberate and provocative act does not just fragment the object, but also shatters our perception of value. The worth of such a vase (or ‘container’, thinking back to Chapter 5) is instantly transformed. We might at first glance take this transformation to be one that diminishes value, and yet the artist maintains that some new value is generated, or released, from this act – that it is as creative as it is destructive. The old Maoist adage of having to destroy in order to create is often cited in connection with this act.1