Rebar in Gold started after Ai Weiwei collected the contorted steel rebar – steel used to reinforce concrete – after the devastating Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan Province in China in 2008, where almost 70,000 people died.
After the earthquake, Ai found and purchased a mass of contorted rebar, 200 tonnes. The pieces of Rebar in Gold are straightened, meant to be bent by the user themselves.
In 2013, Ai created a machine that would create the motif of the rebar on gold. He bought a mass of gold from his brother. He created a long rebar in 24 karat gold as a single piece. Out of this single piece, he created shorter pieces of Rebar in Gold: 60cm and 20cm. It is not a collection, but a single work: the pieces can be shaped to form a necklace, or a bracelet. And each piece has a different weight, just like pieces of rebar do.
Ai chose to recreate the rebar in gold to remind us about the preciousness of life. It is not a memorial, he says. It is not exactly about commemorating the many deaths. It is about understanding how important life is. You shape the pieces yourself, the same way you shape your own life, the memories of your life, and your future.
The pieces themselves are therefore very simple: a bar that you bend to your wrist; but the concept behind it is very strong.