An Hour for Ai Weiwei
by Mark Chmiel
After meeting with Marty, J’Ann, and Suzanne, I offered to propose something for a gathering of old and new friends Thursday 1 October at Hartford Coffee on Hartford from 4:30-5:30.
I want us to discuss Ai Weiwei! He is at the creative intersection of art, activism, and accountability. He said, I am always trying to find how to get the message through. [In Munich] we custom-made five-thousand backpacks like the ones of these students [who died in Sichuan] to construct a simple sentence [spoken by the] mother of a dead student. It was: “She has been happily living in this world for seven years.”
If you have 12 minutes, check out his Ted Talk.
If you have 15 minutes, read the Weiwei-isms I’m compiled from one of his books, below (sort of his answer to the Quotations of Chairman Mao). Note the ones that grabbed you.
If you have 20 minutes, visit his web site.
If you have 90 minutes, watch the documentary available at Netflix streaming, Never Sorry.
Look forward to being with those able and interested to make it,
Weiwei-isms, by Ai Weiwei, edited by Larry Warsh
Liberty is about our rights to question everything.
My favorite word? It’s “act.”
Your own acts tell the world who you are and what kind of society you think it should be.
I call on people to be “obsessed citizens,” forever questioning and asking for accountability. That’s the only chance we have today of a healthy and happy life.
I want people to see their own power.
Citizens should bear the responsibility to act.
A land that rejects the truth, barricades itself against change and lacks the spirit of freedom is hopeless.
The biggest crime of a dictatorship is to eradicate human feelings from people.
House arrest, travel restrictions, surveillance, stopping phone service, cutting the Internet connection. What we can still do is greet the crazy motherland once again.
We should leave behind discrimination, because it is narrow-minded and ignorant, denies contact and warmth, and corrodes mankind’s belief that we can better ourselves. The only way to avoid misunderstanding, war, and bloodshed is to defend freedom of expression and to communicate with sincerity, concern, and good intentions.
What can they do besides exile [me] or make me disappear?
They have no imagination or creativity.
I also have to speak out for people around me who are afraid, who think it is not worth it or who have totally given up hope. So I want to set an example: you can do it and this is okay, to speak out.
If there is one who’s not free, then I am not free. If there is one who suffers, then I suffer. A fine line separates Chinese intellectuals and professors from the political gangsters who protect them.
I think my stance and my way of life is my most important art.
I think it’s a responsibility for any artist to protect freedom of expression and to use any way to extend this power.
I think all aesthetic judgments—all the aesthetic choices we are making—are moral choices. They cannot escape the moral dimension in the broader sense. It has to relate to the philosophical understanding of who we are and how so-called “art and culture” function in today’s world.
I came to art because I wanted to escape the other regulations of the society. The whole society is so political. But the irony is that my art becomes more and more political.
It became like a symbolic thing, to be “an artist.” After Duchamp, I realized that being an artist is more about a lifestyle and attitude than producing some product.
I’m an artist who is always looking for what is possible. I’m always looking to extend the boundaries.
My definition of art has always been the same. It is about freedom of expression, a new way of communication. It is never about exhibiting in museums or about hanging it on the wall. Art should live in the heart of the people. Ordinary people should have the same ability to understand art as anybody else. I don’t think art is elite or mysterious. I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention.
Myself, I try to search for the new way, always trying to set up a new possibility and to find the new tools to express myself. To reach a broader audience.
On his landmark work “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” (1995): I think by shattering it we can create a new form, a new way to look at what is valuable—how we decide what is valuable.
I feel powerless all the time, but I regain my energy by making a very small difference that won’t cost me much.
There is no revolution like the Communist revolution. You simply burn all the books, kill all of the think people and use the poor proletariat to create a very simple benchmark to gauge social change.
The great success of this system is that it makes the general public afraid of taking responsibility, afraid of taking a position or giving a definite answer, or even of making mistakes. It is better to have a retarded president who respects human values than a clever government without human values.
In a society like this there is no negotiation, no discussion, except to tell you that power can crush you any time they want—not only you, your whole family and all people like you.
Tips of surviving the regime: Respect yourself and speak for others. Do one small thing every day to prove the existence of justice.
Cities really are mental conditions. Beijing is a nightmare. A constant nightmare.
The only reason they put me in jail is my involvement in politics, my criticism of the authorities. Later the excuse for my detention became my “tax problem.” But internally they never told me anything about it. I dint want to underestimate their intelligence, but up to this day I think what they did is very stupid. In fact, they even helped me in an ironic sense. They gave me a chance to explain what is happening with this system. They provided such a platform for me. 64
The 81 days of detention were a nightmare. I am not unique; it happened to many people in China. Conditions were extreme, created by a system that thinks it is above the law and has become a kind of monstrous machine. There were so many moments when I felt desperate and hopeless. But still, the next morning, I heard the birds singing.
Choices after waking up: To be true or to lie? To take action or be brainwashed? To be free or be jailed?
Only with the Internet can a peasant I have never met hear my voice and I can learn what’s on his mind. A fairy tale has come true.
The Internet is uncontrollable. And if the Internet is uncontrollable, freedom will win. It’s as simple as that.
The Internet is the best thing that could have happened to China.
No outdoor sports can be more elegant than throwing stones at autocracy; no melees can be more exciting than those in cyberspace.
The government computer has one button: delete.
My blog is an extension of my thinking. Why should I deform my thinking simply because I live under a government that espouses an ideology which I believe to be totally against humanity?
Block [my blog] if you want, but I cannot self-censor, because that is the ply reason I have the blog. We both know it’s is a game. You have to play your part, and I have to play mine.
Before blogging, I was living in the Middle Ages. Now my feelings for time and space are entirely different.
People often say I started to become too outspoken after a certain period. it’s all because of the Internet. If we didn’t have this technology I would be the same as everybody else. I couldn’t really amplify my voice.
I see myself not as a leader but as somebody who initiates things or finds the problem or provokes a discussion. You have to be always ready to engage, willing to participate. When events or history happen, you just have to be aware and respond.
If a nation cannot face its past, it has no future.
We need to get out of the old language. Modernism represents a true kind of living. Modernism is not about form or method or the works of a few artists, but rather about a necessary way of living. And only this kind of lifestyle can save China, because if we don’t have modernism, then we will die under the grasp if one or another ideology. Modernism at least says that every person is free and needs to honestly encounter his own life.
The world is a sphere, there is no East or West.
I try to encourage people to look at our past in a critical way because as our education, we have a great, great history. But in reality we are poorest in ethics and philosophy, so
I try to raise people’s consciousness on how we deal with our past.
Imagine one day, the hateful word around you collapses. And it is your attitude, words and actions that put an end to it. Will you be excited?
I will never leave China, unless I am forced to. Because China is mine. I will not leave something that belongs to me in the hands of people I do no trust.
Later I became very involved in writing. I really enjoyed that moment of writing. People would pass around my sentences. That was a feeling I never had before. It was like a bullet out of the gun.
I always have an attitude. Even if there are no plans, I have an attitude. Perhaps I answered imprecisely before, saying that I am just a person. I am actually a person with an attitude.
Expressing oneself is like a drug. I’m so addicted to it.
I don’t really care that much about if I want to be more successful or less successful in art, because I never think life and art should be separate. What’s life if you don’t have conversation and joy and anger?
Overturning police cars is a super-intense workout. It’s probably the only sport I enjoy.
I loved New York–every inch of it. It was a little bit scary at that time, but still, the excitement was so strong–visually and intellectually. It was like a monster.
When I checked into a hospital [in Germany, after having been beaten by police in Sichuan], I was told there was bleeding in my brain and I was near total collapse. I was rushed into surgery. When I awoke I felt like a normal person again. But I will not feel whole until I and my fellow Chinese can live freely.
Every day I think, this will be the day I get taken in again ….
During the days in detention, I thought most about the moon.
On the contributions sent by Chinese citizens toward paying the tax bill levied by the government: There were thousands of moving messages. People sent money from their first month’s salary. Others said: This is my retirement payment–take it. This is the money for my next pair of shoes–take it. it was very important for me to see and hear those things. Normally you do not see the warmth, humor, care and generosity of the people while writing a blog. You just feel like are walking in a dark tunnel and you feel alone.
Nothing can silence me as long as I am alive. I don’t give any kind of excuse. If I cannot come out [of China] or I cannot go in [to China] this is not going to change my belief. But when I am there, I am in this condition: I see it, I see people who need help. Then you know, I just want to offer my possibility to help them.