From the Earth to the World. Ai Weiwei's Functional Dante Reference in the Music Album The Divine Comedy (2013) and in the Lego Portrait Dante Alighieri in LEGO (2016)

  • Daniel Brandlechner University of Vienna
Keywords: Intermediality, Mediality, World Literature, Dante, Surface Reading


This article sets out to illuminate two intermedial Dante references in the artwork of the Chinese-western artist Ai Weiwei: the music album The Divine Comedy (2013) and the Lego portrait Dante Alighieri in LEGO (2016). By paying special attention to surfaces, the “surface reading” presented in this article seeks to interrogate the function of these references. However, in place of Why? the question in this article is shaped more by How? Due to Dante's inherent mediality, the intermedial Dante references function as a social medium. The article demonstrates, how mediality becomes evident through two operators: seriality and combinatorics. By placing the artist on one of the two sides of mediation, this article implicitly reverses the role long reserved for Ai Weiwei: that of the cultural mediator.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Daniel Brandlechner, University of Vienna

Daniel Brandlechner is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Vienna, Austria. His research interest lies in literary disaster studies, transnational cultural transfer, and digital comparative literature.


Ai, Weiwei, Ai Weiwei's Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009, Ed. Lee Ambrozy, Cambridge-London, The Mit Press, 2011.

Ambrozy, Lee, “Introduction”, Ai 2011: XVII–XXVIII.

Ai, Weiwei – Siemons, Mark, Ai Weiwei: so sorry (exh. cat.), München-Berlin-London-New York, Prestel Verlag, 2009.

Barry, Kaya, “Art and materiality in the global refugee crisis: Ai Weiwei’s artworks and the emerging aesthetics of mobilities”, Mobilities, 14.2 (2019): 204-217. 

Barthes, Roland, “Essais critiques”, Œuvres complètes, Ed. Éric Marty, Paris, Edition du Seuil, 1993, I: 1165-1378.

Best, Stephen - Sharon Marcus, “Surface Reading: An Introduction”, Representations, 108.1.1 (2009): 1-21.

Brezzi, Alessandra, “La fortuna di Dante in Cina nel XX secolo”, La ricezione di Dante Alighieri: Impulsi e tensioni, Atti del convegno internazionale all’Università di Urbino, 26 e 27 maggio 2010, Eds. Rita Unfer Lukoschik - Michael Dallapiazza, München, Martin Meidenbauer, 2011: 255–77.

Bruno, Giuliana, Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media, Chicago-London, The University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Contini, Gianfranco, “Dante come personaggio-poeta della Commedia”, Varianti e altra linguistica, Una raccolta di saggi (1938-1968), Torino, Einaudi, 1970: 335-362.

Feilke, Helmuth – Linke, Angelika, “Oberfläche und Performanz – Zur Einleitung”, Oberfläche und Performanz: Untersuchungen zur Sprache als dynamischer Gestalt, Tübingen, De Gruyter, 2009: 3-18. 

Ghosh, Amitav, The Great Derangement. Climate Change and The Unthinkable, Chicago-London, The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Kafka, Franz, The Castle, Ed. Anthea Bell, New York, Oxford University Press, 2009.

Krämer, Sybille, “Epistemologie der Medialität: Eine medienphilosophische Reflexion”, Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 67.5 (2019): 833-50. 

Laachir, Karima - Marzagora, Sara - Orsini, Francesca, “Multilingual Locals and Significant Geographies: For a Ground-up and Located Approach to World Literature”, Modern Languages Open, 1 (2018).

Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Das wilde Denken, Ed. Hans Neumann, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1973.

Marcus, Sharon - Love, Heather - Best, Stephen, “Building a Better Description”, Representations, 135.1 (2016): 1-21. 

Rajewsky, Irina, “Percorsi transmediali. Appunti sul potenziale euristico della transmedialità nel campo delle letterature comparate”, Schermi. Rappresentazioni, immagini, transmedialità, Eds. F. Agamennoni, M. Rima, S. Tani, Between, VIII.16 (2018).

Siemons, Mark, “China as Readymade: On the Ai Weiwei System”, Ai - Simmons 2009: 24-28.

Tancock, John, “Duchamp and/or/in China”, Duchamp and/or/in China, Eds. Laura Tucker - Paula Tsai, Beijing, UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, 2014: 45-88. 

How to Cite
Brandlechner, D. (2020). From the Earth to the World. Ai Weiwei’s Functional Dante Reference in the Music Album <i>The Divine Comedy</i> (2013) and in the Lego Portrait <i>Dante Alighieri in LEGO</i&gt; (2016). Between, 10(20), 329-346.