The art world internationally has been blasted by the Ai Weiwei’s odyssey regarding a wide scale crackdown on political activists in mainland China. In 2011, after the Beijing authorities arrested him at the airport and banned the artist from leaving the country, Ai spent 81 days in custody. Today though China returns his passport after four years and Ai can travel abroad.
Text: CoBo Editorial Force
To some, he is an activist or even a hero standing against the Chinese political repression. For others though he is just a political adventurer or an artist who use dishonest practices for personal gain manipulating his reputation in the art world. On the other hand, for others he is a mixed version of the above statements; a successfully contemporary artist who uses all possible mediums to disseminate his artworks as well as his ethical ideology and activism towards the currently Chinese political realm.
Whatever your opinions about Ai Weiwei, there is one evident argument: he is everywhere from the Tate Modern in London where he disordered 100 million porcelain seeds hand- painted by Chinese workers (Sunflower Seeds, 2010), to Venice Biennale where a large-scale installation project (SACRED, 2013) took place inside the church of Saint-Antonin in Venice and to Beijing where he was commissioned as the artistic consultant on the design of the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Haily Grenet, a French curator who’s been spending the last two years living and working in Asia, commented, “I don’t think he’s making art and he keeps saying so, but maybe the Western’s infatuation came from their cathartic need of an icon rising up against what we once called the Yellow Peril. Whether we appreciate his artistry or not isn’t where the question lays. However few artists today achieved what he did, and this, I hope, will inspire generations of artists.”
Taking into account the current news about Ai in the art world, CoBo asked from its online community and reached a pool of 500 to participate in a questionnaire about this ambiguous artist. The concept behind this opinion poll is to raise some critical voice upon Ai’s artistic activity and identity.
Given that, the 58% of the people believe that Ai’s artistry gets more powerful and influential under political constraints, whereas the 29 percent considers Ai as a genuine talent. On another level, the artist has been openly criticized for showing off against the Chinese governmental policies to gain personal reputation and support. This research indicates a correlation between these two views, as the 39 percent wants China to change while the 32 percent does not bother as long as it’s eye-catchy.
Alternatively, the 29 percent of the pool notes that Ai enjoys the spotlight by criticizing China. Hence, he will not give up. Furthermore, this survey examined the extent to which the participants consider Ai either as a social activist based on his art or a successful artist through his social campaigns.
Surprisingly, the high percentage of the 65 percent strongly declares that he is a successful activist while the 29 percent of them consider Ai as an artist through social campaigns. Here it is important to highlight that people’s opinion underscores Ai’s highly reported activism than a pure artist’s attitude.
On the personality measures, the questionnaire also highly ranks (42%) Ai as an authentic artist recognising the creative side of his identity whereas the 35 percent of the participants is more flexible and suggests us not to label this artist at all. The last question of this survey attempts to elicit some reasons why Ai Weiwei would stop making art. Characteristically, the 35 percent reports as a possible reason for giving up art when his freedom in making art is gone. In comparison, they 32 percent answered when Ai will be “fed up with the whole thing”.
Overall, according to the multifarious record of this Chinese artist, I come up with a wide range of feelings and conclusions about him. Ai is a controversial artist whose cultural activity and creative behaviour overlaps either between the identity of an artist or a social activist. Debates about his attitude and artwork will be an ongoing process as well as a watertight case in the current art world. Ahead of the inauguration of Ai’s highly anticipated forthcoming exhibition (Sept 2015) at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, some information about his installation has been circulated on the internet; criticism of contemporary Chinese society, freedom of speech as well as human right themes will be emphasized there. Finally, the artist’s essential visa issues in the United Kingdom calls even more the attention to Ai’s large-scale showcase including the Trees Installations, created from parts of dead trees collected from the maintains of southern China while putting this RA exhibition in a monumental perspective.
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