Category Archives: art

“Ai Weiwei bemoans block on his ‘Gangnam’ parody”

I’m not really sure what to make of this one. A few days ago Ai Weiwei released a video of himself and his friends jumping and dancing to the tune of Gangnam Style, with clips from the original video spliced in with footage from Ai’s studio. Honestly, it seemed pretty low-effort by Ai’s standards, and was almost disappointing given the possibilities of what Ai could do with that song and idea if he put some time in.

On the other hand, Reuters is now reporting that China went on a censorship spree to take the video down and delete all references to it from the Chinese net. I feel like that almost redeems the video- if the most bland, inoffensive statement ever made gets pulled down, and of a song and video that are all over the airwaves already in China at that, then the censors have come out looking unusually ridiculous, even for them.

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei criticized the government on Thursday for removing from Chinese websites his parody of Korean pop sensation Psy’s Gangnam Style video.

Ai, a world-renowned artist and China’s most prominent dissident, and staff of his company performed Psy’s famous horse dance in his Beijing studio and posted the video late on Wednesday to Chinese sites such as “Tudou”, the equivalent of the blocked YouTube site.

Ai, 55, called the video “Caonima”. “Caonima” means “grass mud horse” but the word, which sounds like a very crude insult, has also been taken on by Chinese Internet users, and by Ai himself, and featured in postings mocking the government’s online controls.

“We only filmed for a bit over 10 minutes but we used a whole day to edit, and eventually put it online at midnight,” Ai told Reuters.

“After we had uploaded it, a few hours later … we found that a lot of people, tens of thousands, had already watched it. Now, in China, it has already been totally removed, deleted entirely, and you can’t see it in China,” Ai said.

“Overall, we feel that every person has the right to express themselves, and this right of expression is fundamentally linked to our happiness and even our existence,” Ai said.

“When a society constantly demands that everyone should abandon this right, then the society becomes a society without creativity. It can never become a happy society.”

On the one hand, there wasn’t much creativity being exercised in Ai’s video… but on the other hand, it still got deleted, so Ai was proven right in spite of himself almost.

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“The Artist Who Can’t Leave China”

TIME has an interview with Ai Weiwei, whose Hirshhorn exhibition opened in DC last weekend:

If you were given your passport and allowed to travel, do you worry about being able to return?

There are so many cases of people being blocked from returning. I always prepare for the worst, but I also try to act according to what is possible. I always think: why should [the government] do that? It is not good for them; it is not good for anybody. I think maybe they would change. Every decision I make I always try to say the [government] has the possibility to change. Otherwise why would you still fight? So that would bring me into many, many difficult circumstance. Because I’m always willing to test and to say: what could happen? Or say: just because it happened last time does that means it will happen again? So I can’t say what will or will not happen.

There are many cases where there are things that you fought for and that your side ended up having a victory of sorts. There was the Green Dam censorship software that the government wanted to install on Chinese computers; and the research into the names of students who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Green Dam was blocked and, eventually, the government was forced to release a total of the student deaths. Looking at that do you see any potential for, if not exactly change in the system, at least movement or response by the government to the interests of the public?

I think so. Gradually, under pressure from not just me but from different points. I think the pressure is getting stronger, you can see it every day. I always jump to the other side, to think about it from the view of the government. You can see the Internet discussion. So far it is the strongest force to deliver the pressure to the government and make people’s voice be heard. It happens everywhere. Sometimes it doesn’t have an immediate effect. Like the Beijing flood this summer, to name those names [of the dead], it was quite difficult, but they had to do it. If they didn’t do it, people will start to research on their own. That will cause the government much more problems.

The Government [knows] … many issues need to be faced and answered. And they know the sooner they answer, the less cost and less damage. But who is going to do it? I think the pressure still need to come from the civil movement. After 63 years [the government] cut out all the possible interests groups or different kind of discussions. They don’t exist. The whole nation becomes very simple. The master gives the order ruthlessly. The civilians just have to obey it. There’s no space for discussion, no structure, etcetera. No way to even to evaluate the damage. There is no true communication.

You lived in U.S. for 12 years before returning in 1993. How did the U.S. change you and how did it affect your art?

It is very strange. When I was there, I desperately trying just to survive and of course I experienced and learned so much through art on the Lower East Side or demonstrations or even the Iran Contra scandal. All those things I watched. I never [thought] there was an influence… until I was in detention and the police asked me the same question. Because they had have to find out why this man relentlessly criticized the government. He’s psycho, why is he doing this? What is the fundamental change? …At the beginning, when I talked with them they said, ‘Ha ha, you must watch too many Hollywood movies.’ I said, ‘Yes, I love Hollywood movies.’ I still can be touched if I watch movies. I started to realize I have changed. The American experience quite influenced my understanding of individuality, about basic human rights, about the rights of freedom of expression and the rights and responsibility of citizens.

Then later I learned everything from the Internet. I learned to discuss, to communicate, to make a point through modern technology. So maybe there are three parts in my life – earlier background living in exile in Xinjiang in a very political circumstance, then later the United States from 24 to 36 years old. I was quite equipped with liberal thinking. Then the Internet. If there is no Internet of course I cannot really exercise my opinion or my ideas.

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“China’s art world does not exist”

Another piece from an old standby- Ai Weiwei, who writes about art in China on pfsk.com:

What are we to make of a show that calls itself Art of Change: New Directions from China? I don’t think it’s worth discussing new directions in the context of Chinese art – there were no old directions, either. Chinese art has never had any clear orientation. Yes, the artists in this exhibition, which opened at the Hayward gallery in London last week, have struggled against the limitations imposed by the Chinese state more stridently than others. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is just another attempt to introduce western audiences to so-called “contemporary Chinese art”. How can you have a show of “contemporary Chinese art” that doesn’t address a single one of the country’s most pressing contemporary issues?

I am very familiar with the work of most of the artists in the show. Their work is certainly Chinese but, overall, the show casts no critical eye. It is like a restaurant in Chinatown that sells all the standard dishes, such as kung pao chicken and sweet and sour pork. People will eat it and say it is Chinese, but it is simply a consumerist offering, providing little in the way of a genuine experience of life in China today.

Widespread state control over art and culture has left no room for freedom of expression in the country. For more than 60 years, anyone with a dissenting opinion has been suppressed. Chinese art is merely a product: it avoids any meaningful engagement. There is no larger context. Its only purpose is to charm viewers with its ambiguity.

Last year, we saw China bringing its propaganda right into New York’s Times Square. In an advertising push that the state news agency Xinhua described as a “public diplomacy campaign”, billboard-size screens played videos that featured martial-arts movie star Jackie Chan, basketball player Yao Ming, astronaut Yang Liwei, and pianists Lang Lang and Li Yundi. Meanwhile Confucius Institutes, promoting Chinese culture, are spreading all over the world, as are Chinese traveling acrobatic troupes. To me, these are an insult to human intelligence and a ridicule of the concept of culture – vehicles of propaganda that showcase skills with no substance, and crafts with no meaning.

Although Chinese art is heavily influenced by contemporary western culture, it rejects the essential human values that underpin it. The Chinese Communist party claims to deliver socialism with Chinese characteristics, but nobody understands what this means – including the people of China.

Sounds like Ai is asking for another visit from the friendly folks at the local PSB…

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“Mural draws fire from China”

Watch and marvel as the mayor of Corvallis displays more courage in defense of freedom of expression than plenty of national-level executives from around the world:

Citing “strong resentment from the local Chinese community,” the Chinese government has asked the city of Corvallis to force a Taiwanese-American businessman to remove a mural advocating independence for Taiwan and Tibet from his downtown building.

But city leaders say the mural violates no laws and its political message is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

In vivid colors, the painting depicts riot police beating Tibetan demonstrators, Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and images of Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom.

In a letter dated Aug. 8, the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco formally complained to Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning about the mural’s content and asked for her help in having it removed.

“There is only one China in the world,” the letter reads in part, “and both Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China.”

In a response dated Aug. 20, Manning expressed regret that the mural had caused concern but noted that local government has no authority to regulate art.

“As you are aware,” Manning’s letter reads, ‘the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution guarantees freedom of speech in this country, and this includes freedom of artistic expression.”

Two Chinese officials, Vice Consul Zhang Hao and Deputy Consul General Song Ruan, flew to Oregon this week to make their case in person. The two men met Tuesday in Corvallis with Manning and City Manager Jim Patterson.

“They expressed their concern and the concern of the Chinese government about the mural on Mr. Lin’s building,” Patterson said. “They viewed the message as political propaganda.”

Patterson said he and Manning agreed to convey those concerns to Lin but made it clear to the consular officials that the city could not and would not order the painting’s removal.

“We also had a conversation with them about the U.S. Constitution,” Patterson added.

President Obama avoided the Dalai Lama the first time he visited Washington during the Obama administration, and gave him a low-key meet the second time. Mayor Manning politely listened to Chinese complaints, then explained the US Constitution and sent the Chinese consuls packing. Wow.

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“Ai Weiwei: to live your life in fear is worse than losing your freedom”

Ai Weiwei has written in to The Guardian, with a short letter to the editor here. By the way, fans of Teacher Ai should try to catch Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a fantastic documentary on the man behind the art, political statements, and general cyclone of activity. He writes:

The 81 days of detention were a nightmare. I am not unique: this has happened to many people, and is still happening. It’s an experience no one should share. They were extreme conditions, created by a system that thinks it is above the law, and has become a kind of monstrous machine. Everybody who has been through it loses their original hope or has it changed somehow.

There are so many moments when you feel desperate and hopeless and you feel that’s the end of it. But still, the next morning, you wake up, you hear the birds singing and the wind blows. You have to ask yourself: can you afford to give up the fight for freedom of expression or human dignity? As an artist, this is an essential value that can never be given up.

They destroyed my studio, they put me in secret detention and they fabricated a crime that put a 15m yuan tax bill on me. We are now suing the Beijing tax authorities for abuse of powers and ignoring procedures. We are using this opportunity to make them realise what’s wrong and inform the public, even though we know the results won’t be positive. They refused to give us our papers back or let our manager and accountant be witnesses at the trial on Wednesday, or let me attend court. They even made my friend Liu Xiaoyuan, a lawyer, disappear before the hearing.

Friends of mine say: “Weiwei, my father has been questioned, my mother has been questioned, my sister has been questioned because of you.” I don’t know these people. Why does the system make them suffer? Because it can’t allow anybody to exercise their humanity and communicate or show support. But when your children are growing up and will never have a chance to have their voices heard, do you want to turn your face away and say OK, that’s not my problem?

Reflect on Bo Xilai’s case, Chen Guangcheng’s and mine. We are three very different examples: you can be a high party member or a humble fighter for rights or a recognised artist. The situations are completely different but we all have one thing in common: none of us have been dealt with through fair play, open trials and open discussion. China has not established the rule of law and if there is a power above the law there is no social justice. Everybody can be subjected to harm.

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“Ai Weiwei ordered to turn cameras off”

If nothing else, Ai is good at trolling the Chinese government anytime, anywhere, no matter how angry they are at him:

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei says he has been ordered to shut down four live webcams at his home, which he set up as a nod to the 24-hour police surveillance he has lived under for the last year.

The artist told the BBC that he installed cameras at his desk, outside his home and above his bed to encourage transparency.

He said he was ordered turn off the camera feeds but he told Radio 4′s World at One that he “won’t be shut down”.

Mr Ai was detained in April 2011 during a crackdown on political activists and is now banned from leaving Beijing.

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“Rising Protests in China”

The Atlantic has a great photo essay showing just a cross-section of the mass incidents China has witnessed over the last year. Next time someone says Beijing has a firm handle on the situation, link them to this, and then remind them that these incidents were just the tip of the iceberg.

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