ai weiwei: circle of animals / zodiac heads world tour
ai weiwei: circle of animals / zodiac heads world tour ai weiwei: circle of animals / zodiac heads world tour
mar 18, 2011

ai weiwei: circle of animals / zodiac heads world tour

ai weiwei zodiac head – rooster all images are installation views of ai weiwei’s ‘circle of animals: zodiac heads’ at the são paolo biennale 29th photographs by ding musa © AW asia


‘circle of animals / zodiac heads’ is the first major public sculpture project by chinese contemporary artist, curator, architectural designer and social activist ai weiwei in which he has re-interpreted twelve bronze animal heads, collectively representing the traditional chinese zodiac that once adorned the famed fountain-clock of the yuanming yuan, an imperial retreat in beijing.

ai weiwei zodiac head – dog


contrary to western astrology, which looks to stars as a means of predicting one’s fate, the chinese zodiac is influenced by traditional concepts of the five elements (earth, fire, water, metal and wood), yin and yang and ancient calendrical cycles.

with the traditional chinese zodiac, each year is represented by one of 12 animals: boar, dog, dragon, goat, horse, monkey, ox, rabbit, rat, rooster, snake and tiger which rotate through a 12-year cycle. according to the asian culture, the animal representing a person’s birth year profoundly influences his or her personality and destiny.

ai weiwei zodiac head – pig


the original twelve bronze animal heads were designed in the 18th century by two european jesuits serving in the court of the qing dynasty emperor qianlong. together these twelve pieces functioned as a water clock-fountain, which was sited in the european-style gardens of the yuanming yuan. the in 1860, the yuanming was ransacked by french and british troops, and the heads were pillaged and what then remained were only seven of the original zodiac heads. however, for his interpretation, ai weiwei has chosen to provide a presentation that includes of all twelve, as one missing head makes a broken unit – an incomplete zodiac.


ai weiwei zodiac head – rat


circe of animals / zodiac heads‘ were recently on display at são paolo biennale in brazil and will embark on their world tour this spring, starting in new york at the historic pulitzer fountain at grand army plaza near central park and the plaza hotel from may 2nd to july 15th, 2011. soon after it will be shown at london’s somerset house where it will be the first contemporary art sculpture to go on display on ground’s historic courtyard from may 12th to june 30th, 2011.


ai weiwei zodiac head – ox




ai weiwei zodiac head – tiger




ai weiwei zodiac head – rabbit




ai weiwei zodiac head – dragon




ai weiwei zodiac head – snake




ai weiwei zodiac head – horse




ai weiwei zodiac head – ram




ai weiwei zodiac head – monkey

  • wow

    lp says:
  • All charming and menacing, even the rabbit has nasty little teeth. Also anthropomorphically stylized, a bit like the way Disney both softens and sharpens its animal depictions — or is it the other way around, the Chinese being very much first? In any case, fascinating.

    Tom P says:
  • Oh god the pig is so menacing, I always imagined it being the friendliest, but then like Tom P said, they all have been given softened and sharpened features.

    aaddkk says:

    agnes says:
  • Interesting but the way to stylized them does not let see great differances of species

    ewa says:

have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

comments policy
designboom's comment policy guidelines
generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

- please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
- please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
- please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
- please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
- please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
(there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
the best 100-200 entries too.)

a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.


a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

art news

keep up with our daily and weekly stories
493,007 subscribers
- see sample
- see sample