Ai Weiwei, Lisson Gallery, London 23 May-12 July

Ai Weiwei is one of the leading cultural figures of his generation and consistently displays great courage in placing himself at risk to affect social change through art. His work often challenges the political systems in place in China and he was secretly detained in 2011, spending 81 days accompanied only by his interrogators and the scant furnishings of his cell.

His new solo exhibition at Lisson Gallery explores aspects of his life before and after his detention in Beijing, featuring a number of hand-carved copies of highly personal objects including a marble recreation of his father’s armchair, two sets of humble cosmetics bottles made from jade and glass replicas of the window handles that were removed from Beijing taxis. This latter piece, Taxi Window Crank, offers an example of a surreal political system that insists on removing such mundane items from public life for fear that protesters would pass leaflets through car windows in sensitive times.

They also point to the growing accumulation of vehicles in China’s capital city, clogging highways and emitting smog. These vehicles are steadily replacing the once-ubiquitous bicycles that served as a classic marque for the city, something Ai Weiwei recalls with his monumental installation Forever. This grouping of stainless steel bikes, here configured in different modular shapes and layers of geometrically stacked structures, refers to the famous “Forever” brand of bicycles that have been mass-manufactured in Shanghai since 1940. Together the bicycles, the windows cranks and a ghostly, carved-marble gas mask speak to the perpetual pollution experienced in Beijing, the city where Ai Weiwei was born, lives and works.

Ai Weiwei, 23 May – 12 July, Lisson Gallery, 27 Bell Street, London,

1. Ai Weiwei Forever (2013), Stainless steal bicycles in Silvery. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery London.