As you enter Making Sense, Ai Weiwei’s current show at The Design Museum, you stop in your tracks. At your feet is an ordered mass of porcelain balls laid out on the gallery’s terrazzo floor. More than 200,000 of them. In shades of clay, dun and grey, they vary in size from aniseed ball to giant gobstopper. Like Ai, who has collected all of them in Beijing’s markets, at first you might have no idea what they are. They turn out to be cannonballs, made by hand a thousand years ago during the Song dynasty: precious and precise, yet made for destruction.

Ai’s artistic practice takes ...


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