“My du­ty is not to po­li­ti­cise but to hu­ma­nise”

L'officiel Art - - Backstage Introspection - Ai Weiwei In­ter­view by Mi­chael Frahm pp 54-63

Ai Weiwei has tur­ned his pier­cing gaze on Eu­rope. He has been a no­mad for the past six months, away from his na­tive Chi­na since the Chi­nese au­tho­ri­ties re­tur­ned his pas­sport in Ju­ly 2015 af­ter a four-year res­tric­tion. His sto­ry is al­most my­tho­lo­gi­cal by now, ha­ving spar­ked in­ter­na­tio­nal out­cry and pro­pel­led Ai, the dis­si­dent Chi­nese concep­tual ar­tist, to glo­bal fame. He is ad­mi­red for his po­li­ti­cal outs­po­ken­ness, for his in­vest­ment in is­sues sur­roun­ding hu­man rights and free­dom of speech, and for the sheer beau­ty of the art­works that illus­trate these com­mit­ments. His work melds tra­di­tio­nal Chi­nese craft with contem­po­ra­ry po­li­ti­cal mes­sages, of­ten using re­clai­med ma­te­rials such as an­cient pot­te­ry, wood from des­troyed temples, marble or jade to comment on mo­dern-day condi­tions in his ho­me­land, uni­ting the old Chi­na with the new. To­day, ho­we­ver, he casts his at­ten­tion fur­ther afield. Mi­chael Frahm, di­rec­tor of the Blen­heim Art Foun­da­tion, catches up with him on a spring mor­ning in his new Ber­lin stu­dio, in the run-up to the ope­ning of Ai's ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum of Cy­cla­dic Art in Athens, which they have or­ga­ni­sed to­ge­ther. They dis­cuss the ar­tist's pro­li­fic prac­tice, his new-found free­dom, and his blos­so­ming re­la­tion­ship with Eu­rope, far from the Red Dra­gon of Chi­na which has so far de­fi­ned him. he was in­sul­ted and hu­mi­lia­ted in eve­ry way. My fa­ther was exi­led and so we li­ved with him in a round house in a re­mote area near the Go­bi De­sert. He had to clean pu­blic toi­lets for ma­ny years – it was a scan­dal and a pu­nish­ment, both men­tal­ly and phy­si­cal­ly. I grew up with this but I didn't re­co­gnise the ef­fect it had on me un­til years la­ter. It's like gra­vi­ty, a force that you are not ne­ces­sa­ri­ly aware of.

Do you see your­self as ha­ving a du­ty to po­li­ti­cise the art world? My du­ty is not to po­li­ti­cise but to hu­ma­nise th­rough my art­works. Po­li­tics is part of our lives. You may be una­ware of it, but it's there in eve­ry in­di­vi­dual and aes­the­tic jud­ge­ment, eve­ry cultu­ral mo­ve­ment and de­ci­sion, eve­ry as­pect of our lives, overt­ly or other­wise. I've spent quite some time in Chi­na, so I'm very aware of the im­por­tance of hu­man rights and free­dom of speech. These are es­sen­tial va­lues for anyone who wants to ex­press fee­lings or ideas.

Do you think that your work is ha­ving a trans­for­ma­tive ef­fect, ei­ther in Chi­na or abroad? It's hard to eva­luate the ef­fect of art, no matter which ar­tist or mo­ve­ment you're tal­king about. But I can say that my work af­fects my own life. I be­lieve in what I'm doing and I'm fas­ci­na­ted by what hap­pens th­rough my prac­tice. Th­rough the in­ter­net we can find other people who share that fascination, who say, "That's an in­ter­es­ting ef­fort you have made." That's en­ough for an ar­tist to keep mo­ving for­ward: the know­ledge that what you are doing is im­por­tant to your­self and that so­meone else might share in it.

The last ex­hi­bi­tion of yours I saw was at the Bon Mar­ché de­part­ment store in Pa­ris in ear­ly 2016. It was cal­led Er Xi, Air de jeux. As the title sug­gests, it was more play­ful and ligh­thear­ted than much of your other work dea­ling with your na­tive coun­try, al­though it still ce­le­bra­ted tra­di­tio­nal Chi­nese culture and my­tho­lo­gy. Are you nos­tal­gic for a Chi­na you ne­ver knew? We are here on­ly for a mo­ment, our lives are no more than a frag­ment of hu­man his­to­ry. There were people long be­fore us and life will conti­nue, al­though I don't know for how long. So it's al­ways fas­ci­na­ting to look back at other times and places, at what people did, how they hand­led their emo­tions, fan­ta­sies and fears, and the sym­bo­lic lan­guage they used to illus­trate their state of mind. I of­ten look back to see what was done in the past and how ideas and images re­late to our own time. It's not nos­tal­gia but ra­ther using his­to­ry as a rea­dy-made and rein­ter­pre­ting it wi­thin a contem­po­ra­ry context.

You now have an ex­hi­bi­tion open at the Mu­seum of Cy­cla­dic Art in Athens, dis­playing your most ca­no­ni­cal works along­side ar­te­facts from An­cient Greek and Cy­cla­dic culture. This ex­hi­bi­tion puts em­pha­sis on two ma­te­rials ubi­qui­tous in both the Gre­cian and Cy­cla­dic ar­tis­tic tra­di­tions and in your own oeuvre: wood and marble. Could you talk a lit­tle about the si­gni­fi­cance of the ma­te­rials you re­turn to re­pea­ted­ly throu­ghout your ca­reer? It is my fascination with the past that ins­pires me to use wood and marble in my work. Throu­ghout the his­to­ry of ci­vi­li­sa­tion, both wes­tern and an­cient Chi­nese crafts­men have em­ployed wood and stone. Sour­ced from na­ture, these ma­te­rials have strong per­so­na­li­ties and their tex­tures and shapes ins­til emo­tions that re­so­nate with hu­man sen­si­bi­li­ties. Skil­ful­ly ma­ni­pu­la­ted, wood and stone can illus­trate concepts that elu­ci­date contem­po­ra­ry is­sues.

Newspapers in French

Newspapers from France

© PressReader. All rights reserved.