Ai Weiwei at Somerset House: Jimmy Porter and heads on a stick

A visit to disappeared artist Ai Weiwei‘s 12 Circle of Animals/Zodia Heads at Somerset House off the Strand in London proves well worthwhile.

The huge bronze animal heads representing the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac have been erected in a suitably impressive setting, standing tall along three sides of the courtyard fountains in this classical 18th century square.

They are based on the heads stolen from the Yuanming Yuan Imperial Palace fountain by the British and French during the second Opium War (1856-60), and are a meditation on looting, the fake and the copy.

Here’s an Ai Weiwei moment from British culture — Jimmy Porter, protagonist of John Osbourne’s Look Back In Anger from 1956. Kenneth Tynan reviews:

What with this flair for introspection, his gift for ribald parody, his excoriating candour, his contempt for “phoniness”, his weakness for soliloquy and his desperate conviction that the time is out of joint, Jimmy Porter is the completest young pup in our literature since Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. … Jimmy is simply and abundantly alive: that rarest of dramatic phenomena, the act of original creation has taken place: and those who carp were better silent. Is Jimmy’s anger justified? … The Porters of our time deplore the tyranny of “good taste” and refuse to accept “emotional” as a term of abuse; they are classless and leaderless.

Ai’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is on exhibition at Somerset House until 26 June. Free entry but the series of talks to accompany the exhibition are £10 each.

UPDATE Monday 16 May: Index on Censorship reports that Ai has been seen by his wife, has had his diabetes medicine, and still has his signature beard even though prisoners are usually shaved.

Madam Miaow says … visit Anna Chen’s website here:


Anna’s food blog here:

2 thoughts on “Ai Weiwei at Somerset House: Jimmy Porter and heads on a stick”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top