[-empyre-] without fear or/of favor

Kim Machan kim at maap.org.au
Thu Nov 18 19:00:22 EST 2010

Hi Rebecca

I'd like to put forward that if the Chinese authorities seriously  
thought Ai Weiwei was any threat, he would be in gaol.
If the authorities are quite comfortable with having Liu Xiaobo (Nobel  
Prize for Peace 2010) incarcerated, why not Ai Weiwei?

He does have a sense of creating an event and drama that has been well  
reported and as you've said, many believe it is a vital strategy to  
keep up his profile, power and media interest.
I'd heard his house arrest was three hours, not three days.

The Tate installation reminded me of many other installations in China  
where toxic environments were created. One that comes to mind was by  
Wang Du -  “2008/8002” Réalisme noctambule
at Aarrio Gallery in Beijing. The entire gallery was filled with  
artificial stone pillars that were constantly being cut and ground  
with power grinders by 20 or 30 men. The men with paper masks to  
filter the white dust ( also offered to viewers) were down in a lower  
level while the viewer walked on scaffolding some metres above the  
white hellish situation. It immediately came into my mind - this could  
only happen in China!
Half of the men had tossed away their masks as it was mid summer and  
unbelievably hot. The artist, dressed in a white suit, sipped  
champagne outside. The scale that is achievable in production and  
realization is sometimes overwhelming, and a great spectacle - though  
not necessarily great art.
I would not be surprised if Ai Weiwei installs his porcelain rice into  
a huge space in China where no such health considerations are  
monitored by the government - perhaps the entire space of UCCA?
China has it's freedoms too.


On 19/11/2010, at 12:10 AM, Rebecca Catching wrote:

> Hi Johannes, thanks  a lot for this post. I loved your comment re:  
> them only interviewing English speaking curators. If they had  
> interviewed some Chinese people they might have had a more nuanced  
> picture.
> There are actually a lot of artists in China who are quite against  
> him and think of him as an opportunist. I don't necessarily agree  
> with this assumption, (I quite admire his bravery) but I think it's  
> worth mentioning.
> I am not sure if everyone has heard about how the river crabs party  
> turned out but I thought I would share with you what I've heard from  
> various sources.
> About 1000 people turned up, many of whom were petitioners, people  
> who had various grievances with their local governments. There were  
> a few artists and quite a number foreigners. Not much foreign media  
> though.
> The place was crawling with plainclothes people sat and ate with the  
> participants and were stationed at a distance from the studio  
> warning those that went near that they might get caught.
> My friend Rachel Marsden who went said the people organizing the  
> feast were really lovely, but there was nonetheless a very tense  
> atmosphere because of all of the plainclothes police around.
> Another thing that she found weird was that part way through the  
> banquet, they opened a window selling posters and other sorts of  
> merchandize, and everyone scrambled to buy them.
> There is an interesting post which shows some of the public/ 
> blogosphere/art world opposition to Ai Weiwei his actions:
> http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/11/09/china-comments-on-ai-weiweis-river-crab-banquet/
> I think it's a very interesting debate -- the supporters saying that  
> he represents freedom of speech and courage and the detractors  
> (especially Shanghai Monthly which is an interesting blog though I  
> don't always agree with it) saying that he is manipulating his  
> supporters. I think the deep-seated hate-on-Ai-Weiwei lobby is  
> rooted in both a the tendency to reject things causes championed by  
> the West (to be fair the Western media doesn't always have the most  
> nuanced understanding of China) and also a case of Tall Poppy  
> Syndrome.
> I welcome your thoughts and ideas!
> Best
> Rebecca
> On 2010-11-17, at 2:44 PM, Johannes Birringer wrote:
>> dear all
>> last night BBC 1 showed a substantial one hour documentary film on  
>> Ai WeiWei,
>> i presume because of the current exhibition or long -durational  
>> installation of "Sunflower Seeds"
>> at London's Tate Modern.
>> the film focussed  -- in hushed tones and with western curators and  
>> gallery owners
>> pontificating and only one commentator responding to any of the  
>> questions in a language
>> other than english -- on  Ai WeiWei's life and artistic formation,  
>> some of his outspoken/political actions and
>> the amazingly wide range of artistic activities;  the early  
>> sections on his childhood and father,
>> during the years of the Cultural Revolution, and his departure for  
>> New York, were moving and
>> illuminating.
>> The ending was a bit confused, as we see crowds of mesmerized  
>> people delving into and
>> lying in midst of a sea of millions of handmade/handcrafted  
>> porcelain sunflower seeds,
>> and then only during the final credits is it mentioned briefly that  
>> the installation is no
>> longer accessible to the public.
>> I didn't understand that as I had not been able to go there yet  
>> myself.
>> When i checked the review's I found a blog that apparently records
>> conversations between Ai Wei Wei and viewers [ http://lihlii.posterous.com/ai-weiwei-without-fear-or-favour-bbc1 
>> ]
>> and a commentary, cited here for you:
>> <
>> Imagine's film about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei reserved the one  
>> thing that most people already know about him for a hasty back  
>> announcement over the final credits, as Alan Yentob mentioned that  
>> health and safety considerations had limited access to his Tate  
>> Turbine Hall installation of 100 million hand-crafted porcelain  
>> sunflower seeds. On film, visitors rhapsodised about the sensual  
>> pleasure of burying themselves in the seeds and the Proustian  
>> memories of childhood it conjured. After which Yentob forestalled a  
>> rush to the Southbank by explaining that none of these joys were  
>> available any longer. You couldn't blame them for not making more  
>> of it though because this was a fascinating film, and the fiasco  
>> over ceramic dust would have made for an unjustly deflating ending.
>> It would have been interesting to know how Ai Weiwei felt about it  
>> though, because he appears to be an exacting judge of finish. In  
>> one startling scene in the film he was shown touring a factory that  
>> had been working on an installation for him, destroying giant  
>> ceramic vases that had, for some reason, fallen below the standards  
>> he required. Perhaps this was an art work in itself – or an  
>> allusion to one – since one of Ai Weiwei's early pieces showed him  
>> smashing a valuable Han dynasty urn. Either way it was a smashing  
>> bit of film, effectively solving the art documentary's perennial  
>> difficulty in making aesthetic discrimination dramatic to watch.
>> There was an odd paradox here. Ai Weiwei has pretty consistently  
>> been in trouble with the Chinese authorities – courageously  
>> campaigning for a proper inquiry into the death of schoolchildren  
>> during the recent earthquakes and suffering beatings and  
>> surveillance for his pains. At the same time he collaborated in the  
>> design of the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing and clearly still has  
>> an internet connection, because he conducted part of his interview  
>> with Yentob by webcam, after the BBC's request to visit him in  
>> China had been turned down. In other words, the Chinese authorities  
>> appear to be simultaneously infuriated by him and proud of him, as  
>> an artist of international standing. One can only hope it buys him  
>> enough space to continue working.
>> regards
>> Johannes Birringer
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