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Re:publica, 2013+ interview with Ai Weiwei
|Born|| 28 August 1957 |
|Notable work(s)||Sunflower Seeds, Beijing National Stadium|
Re:publica, 2013+ interview with Ai Weiwei
|Born|| 28 August 1957 |
|Notable work(s)||Sunflower Seeds, Beijing National Stadium|
Ai Weiwei (Chinese: 艾未未; pinyin: Ài Wèiwèi, English pronunciation (help·info); born 28 August 1957 in Beijing), is a Chinese contemporary artist, active in sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, film, and social, political and cultural criticism. Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called "tofu-dreg schools" in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of "economic crimes".
Ai Weiwei's father was the Chinese poet Ai Qing, who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement. In 1958, the family was sent to a labour camp in Beidahuang, Heilongjiang, when Ai Weiwei was one year old. They were subsequently exiled to Shihezi, Xinjiang in 1961, where they lived for 16 years. Upon Mao Zedong's death and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the family returned to Beijing in 1976.
In 1978, Ai enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy and studied animation. In 1978, he was one of the founders of the early avant garde art group the "Stars", together with Ma Desheng, Wang Keping, Huang Rui, Li Shuang, Zhong Acheng and Qu Leilei. The group disbanded in 1983, yet Ai participated in regular Stars group shows, The Stars: Ten Years, 1989 (Hanart Gallery, Hong Kong and Taipei), and a retrospective exhibition in Beijing in 2007:Origin Point (Today Art Museum, Beijing).
From 1981 to 1993, he lived in the United States, mostly in New York. He studied briefly at Parsons School of Design and at the Art Students League of New York. He later dropped out of school, and made a living out of drawing street portraits and working odd jobs. During this period, he gained exposure to the works of Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns, and began creating conceptual art by altering readymade objects.
Ai befriended beat poet Allen Ginsberg while living in New York, following a chance meeting at a poetry reading where Ginsberg read out several poems about China. Ginsberg had travelled to China and met with Ai's father, the noted poet Ai Qing, and consequently Ginsberg and Ai became friends.
When he was living in New York's East Village (1983-1993), Ai carried a camera with him all the time and would take pictures of his surroundings wherever he was. The resulting collection of photos were later selected and is now known as the New York Photographs.
At the same time, Ai became fascinated by blackjack card games and frequented Atlantic City casinos. He is still regarded in gambling circles as a top tier professional blackjack player according to an article published on blackjackchamp.com.
In 1993, Ai returned to China after his father became ill. He helped establish the experimental artists' Beijing East Village and co-published a series of three books about this new generation of artists with Chinese curator Feng Boyi: Black Cover Book (1994), White Cover Book (1995), and Gray Cover Book (1997).
In 1999, Ai moved to Caochangdi, in the northeast of Beijing, and built a studio house – his first architectural project. Due to his interest in architecture, he founded the architecture studio FAKE Design, in 2003. In 2000, he co-curated the art exhibition Fuck Off with curator Feng Boyi in Shanghai, China.
In 2005, Ai was invited to start blogging by Sina Weibo, the biggest internet platform in China. He posted his first blog on 19 November. For four years, he "turned out a steady stream of scathing social commentary, criticism of government policy, thoughts on art and architecture, and autobiographical writings." The blog was later shut down by Sina on 28 May 2009 due to its popularity and Weiwei's outspoken attitude on events such as the Sichuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympic Games. Since then he has turned to Twitter and writes prolifically over the platform, claiming at least 8 hours online everyday. He tweets almost exclusively in Chinese on the account @aiww. As of 31 December 2013, Ai Weiwei has declared that he would stop tweeting but the account remains active in forms of retweets and instagram posts.
Ten days after the 8.0-magnitude earthquake took place in Sichuan province on 12 May 2008, Ai Weiwei led a team to survey and film the post-quake conditions in various disaster zones. In response to the government's lack of transparency in revealing names of students who perished in the earthquake due to substandard school campus constructions, Ai recruited volunteers online and launched a "Citizens' Investigation" to compile names and information of the student victims. On 20 March 2009, he posted a blog titled "Citizens' Investigation" and wrote: "To remember the departed, to show concern for life, to take responsibility, and for the potential happiness of the survivors, we are initiating a "Citizens' Investigation." We will seek out the names of each departed child, and we will remember them."
As of 14 April 2009, the list had accumulated 5,385 names. Ai published the collected names as well as numerous articles documenting the investigation on his blog which was shut down by Chinese authorities in May 2009. He also posted his list of names of schoolchildren who died on the wall of his office at FAKE Design in Beijing.
Ai suffered headaches and claimed he had difficulty concentrating on his work since returning from Chengdu in August 2009, where he was beaten by the police for trying to testify for Tan Zuoren, a fellow investigator of the shoddy construction and student casualties in the earthquake. On 14 September 2009, Ai was diagnosed to be suffering internal bleeding in a hospital in Munich, Germany, and the doctor arranged for emergency brain surgery. The cerebral hemorrhage is believed to be linked to the police attack.
According to the Financial Times, in an attempt to force Ai to leave the country, two accounts used by him had been hacked in a sophisticated attack on Google in China dubbed Operation Aurora, their contents read and copied; his bank accounts were investigated by state security agents who claimed he was under investigation for "unspecified suspected crimes".
The building was designed and built by Ai upon encouragement and persuasion from a "high official [from Shanghai]" as part of a new cultural area designated by Shanghai Municipal authorities; Ai would have used it as a studio and to teach architecture courses. But now Ai has been accused of erecting the structure without the necessary planning permission and a demolition notice has been ordered, even though, Ai said, officials had been extremely enthusiastic, and the entire application and planning process was "under government supervision". According to Ai, a number of artists were invited to build new studios in this area of Shanghai because officials wanted to create a cultural area.
On 3 November 2010, Ai said the government had informed him two months earlier that the newly completed studio would be knocked down because it was illegal. Ai complained that this was unfair, as he was "the only one singled out to have my studio destroyed". The Guardian reported Ai saying Shanghai municipal authorities were "frustrated" by documentaries on subjects they considered sensitive: two of the better known ones featured Shanghai resident Feng Zhenghu, who lived in forced exile for three months in Narita Airport, Tokyo; another well-known documentary focused on Yang Jia, who murdered six Shanghai police officers.
In the end, the party took place without Weiwei's presence; his supporters feasted on river crab, an allusion to "harmony", and a euphemism used to jeer official censorship. Ai was released from house arrest the next day.
Like other activists and intellectuals, Ai was prevented from leaving China in late 2010. Ai suggested that the authorities wanted to prevent him from attending the ceremony in December 2010 to award the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to fellow dissident Liu Xiaobo. Ai said that he had not been invited to the ceremony, and was attempting to travel to South Korea for a meeting when he was told that he could not leave for reasons of national security.
On 3 April 2011, Ai was arrested at Beijing Capital International Airport just before catching a flight to Hong Kong and his studio facilities were searched. A police contingent of approximately 50 officers came to his studio, threw a cordon around it and searched the premises. They took away laptops and the hard drive from the main computer; along with Ai, police also detained eight staff members and Ai's wife, Lu Qing. Police also visited the mother of Ai's two-year-old son. While state media originally reported on 6 April that Ai was arrested at the airport because "his departure procedures were incomplete," the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on 7 April that Ai was arrested under investigation for alleged economic crimes. Then, on 8 April, police returned to Ai's workshop to examine his financial affairs. On 9 April, Ai's accountant, as well as studio partner Liu Zhenggang and driver Zhang Jingsong, disappeared, while Ai's assistant Wen Tao has remained missing since Ai's arrest on 3 April. Ai's wife said that she was summoned by the Beijing Chaoyang district tax bureau, where she was interrogated about his studio's tax on 12 April. South China Morning Post reports that Ai received at least two visits from the police, the last being on 31 March – three days before his detention – apparently with offers of membership to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. A staff member recalled that Ai had mentioned receiving the offer earlier, "[but Ai] didn't say if it was a membership of the CPPCC at the municipal or national level, how he responded or whether he accepted it or not."
On 24 February, amid an online campaign for Middle East-style protests in major Chinese cities by overseas dissidents, Ai posted on his Twitter account: "I didn’t care about jasmine at first, but people who are scared by jasmine sent out information about how harmful jasmine is often, which makes me realize that jasmine is what scares them the most. What a jasmine!"
Analysts and other activists said Ai had been widely thought to be untouchable, but Nicholas Bequelin from Human Rights Watch suggested that his arrest, calculated to send the message that no one would be immune, must have had the approval of someone in the top leadership. International governments, human rights groups and art institutions, among others, called for Ai's release, while Chinese officials did not notify Ai's family of his whereabouts.
State media started describing Ai as a "deviant and a plagiarist" in early 2011. The China Daily subsidiary, the Global Times editorial on 6 April 2011 attacked Ai, saying "Ai Weiwei likes to do something 'others dare not do.' He has been close to the red line of Chinese law. Objectively speaking, Chinese society does not have much experience in dealing with such persons. However, as long as Ai Weiwei continuously marches forward, he will inevitably touch the red line one day." Two days later, the journal scorned Western media for questioning Ai's charge as a "catch-all crime", and denounced the use of his political activism as a "legal shield" against everyday crimes. It said "Ai's detention is one of the many judicial cases handled in China every day. It is pure fantasy to conclude that Ai's case will be handled specially and unfairly." Frank Ching expressed in the South China Morning Post that how the Global Times could radically shift its position from one-day to the next was reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland.
Michael Sheridan of The Times suggested that Ai had offered himself to the authorities on a platter with some of his provocative art, particularly photographs of himself nude with only a toy alpaca hiding his modesty – with a caption『草泥马挡中央』 ("grass mud horse covering the middle"). The term possesses a double meaning in Chinese: one possible interpretation was given by Sheridan as: "Fuck your mother, the party central committee".
Ming Pao in Hong Kong reacted strongly to the state media's character attack on Ai, saying that authorities had employed "a chain of actions outside the law, doing further damage to an already weak system of laws, and to the overall image of the country." Pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong, Wen Wei Po, announced that Ai was under arrest for tax evasion, bigamy and spreading indecent images on the internet, and vilified him with multiple instances of strong rhetoric. Supporters said "the article should be seen as a mainland media commentary attacking Ai, rather than as an accurate account of the investigation."
The United States and European Union protested Ai's detention. The international arts community also mobilised petitions calling for the release of Ai: "1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei" was organized by Creative Time of New York that calls for artists to bring chairs to Chinese embassies and consulates around the world on 17 April 2011, at 1 pm local time "to sit peacefully in support of the artist's immediate release." Artists in Hong Kong, Germany and Taiwan demonstrated and called for Ai to be released.
One of the major protests by U.S. museums took place on 19 and 20 May when the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego organized a 24-hour silent protest in which volunteer participants, including community members, media, and museum staff, occupied two traditionally styled Chinese chairs for one-hour periods. The 24-hour sit-in referenced Ai’s sculpture series, Marble Chair, two of which were on view and were subsequently acquired for the Museum’s permanent collection.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the International Council of Museums, which organised petitions, said they had collected more than 90,000 signatures calling for the release of Ai. On 13 April 2011, a group of European intellectuals led by Václav Havel had issued an open letter to Wen Jiabao, condemning the arrest and demanding the immediate release of Ai. The signatories include Ivan Klíma, Jiří Gruša, Jáchym Topol, Elfriede Jelinek, Adam Michnik, Adam Zagajewski, Helmuth Frauendorfer; Bei Ling (Chinese:贝岭), a Chinese poet in exile drafted and also signed the open letter.
On 16 May 2011, the Chinese authorities allowed Ai's wife to visit him briefly. Liu Xiaoyuan, his attorney and personal friend, reported that Wei was in good physical condition and receiving treatment for his chronic diabetes and hypertension; he was not in a prison or hospital but under some form of house arrest.
He is the subject of the 2012 documentary film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, directed by American filmmaker Alison Klayman, which received a special jury prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and opened the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, North America’s largest documentary festival, in Toronto on 26 April 2012.
On 22 June 2011, the Chinese authorities released Ai from jail after almost three months' detention on charges of tax evasion. Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., a company Ai controlled, had allegedly evaded taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents. State media also reports that Ai was granted bail takes on account of Ai's "good attitude in confessing his crimes", willingness to pay back taxes, and his chronic illnesses. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, he is prohibited from leaving Beijing without permission for one year. Ai's supporters widely viewed his detention as retaliation for his vocal criticism of the government. On 23 June 2011, professor Wang Yujin of China University of Political Science and Law stated that the release of Ai on bail shows that the Chinese government could not find any solid evidence of Ai's alleged "economic crime". On 24 June 2011, Ai told a Radio Free Asia reporter that he was thankful for the support of the Hong Kong public, and praised Hong Kong's conscious society. Ai also mentioned that his detention by the Chinese regime was hellish (Chinese: 九死一生), and stressed that he is forbidden to say too much to reporters.
After his release, his sister gave some details about his detention condition to the press, explaining that he was subjected to a kind of psychological torture: he was detained in a tiny room with constant light, and two guards were set very close to him at all times, and watched him constantly. In November, Chinese authorities were again investigating Ai and his associates, this time under the charge of spreading pornography. Lu was subsequently questioned by police, and released after several hours though the exact charges remain unclear.
In 21 June 2012, Ai's bail was lifted. Although he is allowed to leave Beijing, the police informed him that he is still prohibited from traveling to other countries because he is "suspected of other crimes," including pornography, bigamy and illicit exchange of foreign currency. As of 2014, he remains under heavy surveillance and restrictions of movement, but continues to criticize through his work.
In June 2011, the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau demanded a total of over 12 million yuan (US$1.85 million) from Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd in unpaid taxes and fines, and accorded three days to appeal the demand in writing. According to Ai's wife, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd has hired two Beijing lawyers as defense attorneys. Ai's family state that Ai is "neither the chief executive nor the legal representative of the design company, which is registered in his wife’s name."
Offers of donations poured in from Ai's fans across the world when the fine was announced. Eventually an online loan campaign was initiated on 4 November 2011, and close to 9 million RMB was collected within ten days, from 30,000 contributions.Bills were folded into paper planes and thrown over the studio walls, and donations were made in symbolic amounts such as 8964 (4 June 1989, Tiananmen Massacre) or 512 (12 May 2008, Sichuan earthquake). To thank creditors and acknowledge the contributions as loans, Ai designed and issued loan receipts to all who participated in the campaign. Funds raised from the campaign were used as collateral, required by law for an appeal on the tax case. Lawyers acting for Ai submitted an appeal against the fine in January 2012; the Chinese government subsequently agreed to conduct a review.
In June 2012, the court heard the tax appeal case. Ai's wife, Lu Qing, the legal representative of the design company, attended the hearing. Lu was accompanied by several lawyers and an accountant, but the witnesses they had requested to testify, including Ai, were prevented from attending a court hearing. Mr. Ai asserts that the entire matter – including the 81 days he spent in jail in 2011 – is intended to suppress his provocations. Ai said he had no illusions as to how the case would turn out, as he believes the court will protect the government’s own interests. On 20 June, hundreds of Ai's supporters gathered outside the Chaoyang District Court in Beijing despite a small army of police officers, some of whom videotaped the crowd and led several people away. On 20 July, Ai's tax appeal was rejected in court. The same day Ai's studio released "The Fake Case" which tracks the status and history of this case including a timeline and the release of official documents. On 27 September, the court upheld the 2.4 million tax evasion fine. Ai had previously deposited 1.33 million in a government-controlled account in order to appeal. Ai said he will not pay the remainder because he does not recognize the charge.
In October 2012, authorities revoked the license of Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd for failing to re-register, an annual requirement by the administration. The company was not able to complete this procedure as its materials and stamps were confiscated by the government.
Ai Weiwei's visual art includes sculptural installations, woodworking, video and photography. A 2014 exhibition, "Ai Weiwei: According to What", at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, was the first-ever North American tour of his work.
More recent works address his investigation into the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake and responses to the Chinese government's detention and surveillance of him.
In 2002, he was the curator of the project Jinhua Architecture Park.
In 2006, Ai and HHF Architects designed a private residence in upstate New York. According to the New York Times, the Tsai Residence is divided into four modules and the details are "extraordinarily refined". In 2009, the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design selected the home for its International Architecture Awards, one of the world's most prestigious global awards for new architecture, landscape architecture, interiors and urban planning. In 2010, Wallpaper magazine nominated the residence for its Wallpaper Design Awards category: Best New Private House. A detached guesthouse, also designed by Ai and HHF Architects, was completed after the main house and, according to New York Magazine, looks like a "floating boomerang of rusty Cor-Ten steel."
Ai was commissioned as the artistic consultant for design, collaborating with the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, for the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics, also known as the "Bird's Nest." Although ignored by the Chinese media, he had voiced his anti-Olympics views. He later distanced himself from the project, saying, "I've already forgotten about it. I turn down all the demands to have photographs with it," saying it is part of a "pretend smile" of bad taste. In August 2007, he also accused those choreographing the Olympic opening ceremony, including Steven Spielberg and Zhang Yimou, of failing to live up to their responsibility as artists. Ai said "It's disgusting. I don't like anyone who shamelessly abuses their profession, who makes no moral judgment." In February 2008, Spielberg withdrew from his role as advisor to the 2008 Summer Olympics. When asked why he participated in the designing of the Bird's Nest in the first place, Ai replied "I did it because I love design."
In summer 2012, Ai teamed again with Herzog & de Meuron on a "would-be archaeological site [as] a game of make-believe and fleeting memory" as the year's temporary Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London's Kensington Gardens.
On 24 October 2012, Ai went live with a cover of Gangnam Style, the famous K-pop phenomenon by South Korean rapper PSY, through the posting of a four-minute long parody video on YouTube. The video was an attempt to criticize the Chinese government's attempt to silence his activism and was quickly blocked by national authorities.
On 22 May 2013, Ai Weiwei debuted his first single Dumbass over the internet, with a music video shot by cinematographer Christopher Doyle. The video was a reconstruction of Ai Weiwei's experience in prison, during his 81-day detention, and dives in and out of the prison's reality and the guarding soldiers' fantasies. He later released a second single, Laoma Tihua, on 20 June 2013 along with a video on his experience of state surveillance, with footage compiled from his studio's documentaries. On 22 June 2013, the two-year anniversary of Ai's release, he released his first music album The Divine Comedy. Later in August, he released a third music video for the song Chaoyang Park, also included in the album.
Ai Weiwei is the Artistic Director of China Art Archives & Warehouse (CAAW), which he co-founded in 1997. This contemporary art archive and experimental gallery in Beijing concentrates on experimental art from the People's Republic of China, initiates and facilitates exhibitions and other forms of introductions inside and outside China. The building which houses it was designed by Ai in 2000.
On 15 March 2010, Ai took part in Digital Activism in China, a discussion hosted by The Paley Media Center in New York with Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter) and Richard MacManus. Also in 2010 he served as jury member for Future Generation Art Prize, Kiev, Ukraine; contributed design for Comme de Garcons Aoyama Store, Tokyo, Japan; and participated in a talk with Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller at the International Culture festival Litcologne in Cologne, Germany.
In 2011, Ai sat on the jury of an international initiative to find a universal Logo for Human Rights. The winning design, combining the silhouette of a hand with that of a bird, was chosen from more than 15,300 suggestions from over 190 countries. The initiative's goal was to create an internationally recognized logo to support the global human rights movement. In 2013, after the existence of PRISM was revealed, Ai said "Even though we know governments do all kinds of things I was shocked by the information about the US surveillance operation, Prism. To me, it's abusively using government powers to interfere in individuals' privacy. This is an important moment for international society to reconsider and protect individual rights."
Ai designed the cover for the 17 June 2013 issue of Time magazine. The cover story, by Hannah Beech, is "How China Sees the World". TIME Magazine called it "the most beautiful cover we've ever done in our history."
In 2011, Ai served as co-director and curator of the 2011 Gwangju Design Biennale, and co-curator of the exhibition Shanshui at The Museum of Art Lucerne. Also in 2011, Ai spoke at TED (conference) and was a guest lecturer at Oslo School of Architecture and Design.
In 2013, Ai Weiwei became Reporters Without Borders ambassador. He also gave a hundred pictures to the NGO in order to release a Photo book and a digital album, both sold in order to fund freedom of information projects.
2008 Chinese Contemporary Art Awards, Lifetime Achievement
2009 GQ Men of the Year 2009, Moral Courage (Germany); The Art Review Power 100, rank 43; International Architecture Awards, Anthenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design, Chicago, USA
In September 2010, he received Das Glas der Vernunft (The Prism of Reason), Kassel Citizen Award, Kassel, Germany.
Ai was ranked 13th in ArtReview's guide to the 100 most powerful figures in contemporary art: Power 100, 2010. In 2010, he was also awarded a Wallpaper Design Award for the Tsai Residence, which won Best New Private House.
In October 2011, when ArtReview magazine named Ai number one in their annual Power 100 list, the decision was criticised by the Chinese authorities. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin responded, "China has many artists who have sufficient ability. We feel that a selection that is based purely on a political bias and perspective has violated the objectives of the magazine".
In December 2011, he was one of four runners-up in Time's Person of the Year award. Other awards included: Wall Street Journal Innovators Award (Art); Foreign Policy Top Global Thinkers of 2011, rank 18; The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Award for Courage; ArtReview Power 100, rank 1; Membership at the Academy of Arts, Berlin, Germany; The 2011 TIME 100; The Wallpaper* 150; Honorary Academician at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK; and Skowhegan Medal for Multidisciplinary Art, New York, NY, USA.
2012 Along with Saudi Arabian women's rights activist Manal al-Sharif and Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, Ai received the inaugural Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent of the Human Rights Foundation on 2 May 2012. Ai was also awarded an Honorary Degree from Pratt Institute, honorary fellowship from Royal Institute of British Architects, elected as Foreign Member of Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, and recipient of The International Center of Photography Cornell Capa Award. Ai was ranked 3rd in ArtReview's Power 100. He was one of 12 Visionaries honoured by Conde Nast Traveler, along with Hillary Clinton, Kofi Annan, and Nelson Mandela.
2013 In April, Ai Weiwei received the Appraisers Association Award for Excellence in the Arts. Fast Company has listed him among its 2013 list of 100 Most Creative People in Business. His guest-edit in the 18 October issue of The New Statesman has won an Amnesty Media Award in June 2013. He has received the St. Moritz Art Masters Lifetime Achievement Award by Cartier in August. His documentary Ping'an Yueqing(2012) has won the "Spirit of Independence" award at the Beijing Independent Film Festival. He was ranked no.9 in ArtReview's Power 100. He received an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, USA.
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