Ai Weiwei of China is one of four artists who will represent Germany at the Venice Biennale in June. In a SPIEGEL interview, the artist discusses how he will participate in the event despite a travel ban imposed on him by the Chinese government … //
… SPIEGEL: Ai Weiwei, an Italian art gallery has just announced an exhibition of your work saying it will show you at “the height” of your “artistic and polemic powers.” How do you feel being at the pinnacle of your career?
- Ai: I’m not at the summit yet. I am still warming up.
SPIEGEL: The London-based magazine ArtReview rated you one of the most influential figures in international art. What do such awards mean to you?
- Ai: This award was not about me personally but about what I stand for — which are two essential functions of modern art: expression and communication. For me, art always has to ask for new possibilities and to try to extend existing boundaries. An artist must maintain his specific sensitivity, react to life and change it.
SPIEGEL: Can you still do this being as famous as you are? … //
… SPIEGEL: Outside of China you are not only known for your art and your tweets, but also because you frequently speak to foreign journalists. How would you describe your relationship with the Western media?
- Ai: Journalists are professionals. They look at the truth the way doctors look at it — not like a patient. As an artist I try to maintain the truth on a level where it can be more easily shared and accepted. Art has to be innocent. Journalists have to make judgements. That’s why they covered the tragic Boston attacks widely, but didn’t cover the 122 Tibetans who have immolated themselves over the past months. And that’s why many of you write about my struggle but not about the struggle of others.
SPIEGEL: Do you think you are getting too much media attention?
- Ai: It certainly raises my responsibility. I have been working on a video about my detention lately. The government understood this and police warned me: “You can’t do this.” I told them: “Sorry, but if you are embarrassed about this now, why did you arrest me in the first place?” Two hours later a cinematographer who worked with me on the project was detained. They accused him for having met with prostitutes in a massage salon and kept him arrested for 10 days. When he finally came out he told us that two men had invited him for a cup of tea …
SPIEGEL: … which is a Chinese euphemism for being summoned by State Security.
- Ai: Anyway, he hid at the neighboring house to check out who exactly was going to meet him. Then however, he said, police raided the house and forced him to undress. He resisted, they beat him and then asked for the secret code of his cell phone and his computer. Such stories are scary; they rob you of any sense of security. But then again, they are very powerful if they are told in all plain truth to the media.
SPIEGEL: Will your exhibitions in Venice deal with your three “crazy years”? Are they connected to your experience with State Security?
- Ai: I will show three projects in Venice. At the German Pavilion I’ll exhibit an abstract work which has not been shown before. The two other projects are not being shown within the Biennale. Both of them relate to my recent experience. One is part of a project about the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan which was shown last year at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington. The other is a work about my detention. It will reveal certain truths about what happened to me in this period. It is a classical form of display, similar to those museums that simulate the age of dinosaurs.
SPIEGEL: What will your contribution for Germany be?
- Ai: It is an installation, different from what the three other participants will do. It will occupy the center room and it will be large, filling the whole space. This is what I can tell you at this point in time.
SPIEGEL: How do you fill a room which you have never seen before? And how have you been able to work on international shows at all in the time since you have been unable to travel?
- Ai: I have worked in architecture for a long time, so I am experienced with space and light. And as I’ve said before: My art is about communication. When I work, it is like using a remote control, with assistants and workers who understand me well, but whom I also encourage to trust their own judgement and skills.
Human Rights in China: related articles, background features and opinions about this topic, on Spiegel Online International;
Inside Story: How does China define human rights? 25.09 min, uploaded on YouTube by AlJazeeraEnglish, May 20, 2012: Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese activist and dissident, and his immediate family arrived in the US on Saturday, capping off three weeks of rollercoaster diplomacy that reached the highest levels of the Chinese government and the US White House. Now Beijing and Washington are hoping to put what could have been a tense diplomatic situation behind them. How representative is Chen’s human rights struggle of the Chinese? Guests: Simon Shen, David Finkelstein, Mei Renyi.