An Artist’s Duty: An Interview With Ai Weiwei

En Liang Khong in Berfrois:

Ai_weiweiWhile China prepared for the 2008 Olympics, the artist Ai Weiwei was busy collaborating with the Swiss architectural firm, Herzog & de Meuron, on the Bird’s Nest stadium. Gradually, Ai began to experience a deep sense of disgust: “I was so involved in architecture that it opened my eyes to society, dealing with bureaucracy, policies and workers,” Ai observes, “and then you start to realise why they are building, and how they are using it. It is a very political act.” He denounced the Games as nothing more than a totalitarian spectacle. Profoundly disenchanted by the enforced relocation of Beijing inhabitants as a result of the Games, Ai began a journey from radical but successful artist to infamous activist.

But Ai reaches back to a longer history when he stakes out his political battleground today. The line between Ai’s performance and politics has constantly pushed against the artist’s remit in an authoritarian situation. He is the son of the modernist poet Ai Qing, who found himself banished to a labour camp along with his family during the 1950s anti-rightist movement. “Now my own position is very simple,” Ai tells me. “I am an individual. I am an artist. I am living in this society which my poet father also lived in. Many other artists and writers live in it. And I just have to give out my opinion on the matters that occur in my daily life.”

More here.