# 88 ConcordeAi WeiweiInterlacing21 February – 29 April 2012
Ai Weiwei, June 2010 June 1994, 1994As an architect, conceptual artist, sculptor, the so-called “Bird’s Nest, which has become aphotographer, blogger, Twitterer, interview artist new symbol of the city. In 2007, he created aand political activist, Ai Weiwei is a sensitive work entitled Fairytale for Documenta 12, whichobserver of current topics and social issues: a involved bringing 1,001 Chinese visitors to Kassel.great communicator and networker who brings In 2010, he installed a vast, minimalist carpet atlife into art and art into life. “Interlacing” is the the Tate Modern, London, composed of millions offirst important exhibition in France devoted to the porcelain sunflower seeds, handmade and paintedprolific, iconoclastic and provocative work of this by Chinese craftsmen.major figure in the independent Chinese art scene. Ai Weiwei deliberately confronts social conditionsAi Weiwei was born in 1957, the son of the in China and other countries: through photographs,poet Ai Qing. Following his studies at the Beijing he documents the widespread demolition ofFilm Academy, in 1978 he was part of the Beijing carried out in the name of progress; inartists’ collective The Stars, which rejected Social the Study of Perspective series, he adopts aRealism and advocated artistic individualism provocative stance with regard to establishedand experimentation in art. In 1983 Ai Weiwei values; he breaks with the past in works madewent to New York, where he studied at Parsons from reassembled pieces of furniture. His principleSchool for Design in the class of painter Sean is always the same: to create new possibilities forScully. In New York he discovered artists like the present and the future, asserting his positionAllen Ginsberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol through tens of thousands of photographs – oftenand, above all, Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp is taken with a mobile phone – and texts posted onimportant for him for his conception of art as a his blog or on Twitter. This exhibitions focusespart of life. At this time, Ai Weiwei produced his precisely on Ai Weiwei’s diversity, complexityfirst readymades and thousands of photographs and his ability to create links, the “interlacing” anddocumenting his life and friends in the Chinese “networking” typical of his output, that one canart community in New York. In 1997, four years discover here through hundreds of photographsafter returning to Beijing, he cofounded the and text blogs, as well as in explanatory essays.China Art Archives & Warehouse (CAAW) and Imprisoned by the Chinese authorities on 3 Aprilbegan to tackle architecture as well. Ai Weiwei 2011, released under bail on 22 June, Ai Weiweiopened his own studio in 1999 in Caochangdi is, at the time of writing, still forbidden to leaveand set up the architecture pratice FAKE Design the country.in 2003. In the same year, he collaborated withthe Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron in theconception of the Olympic stadium in Beijing,
Gu Changwei, Chinese New Year on Mott Street, 1989 From Provisional Landscapes, 2002–08From New York Photographs, 1983–93 New York Photographs, 1983–93 and made friends with many artists. Among the Ai Weiwei lived in New York from 1983 until avant-garde artists of Beijing’s “East Village”1993. He himself often described this time as he was instrumental in documenting their work,“aimless hanging around with friends”. During and became a natural leader of the movement these years in New York he photographed the fighting for a more open and unrestricted artistic East Village, where he lived, as well as other expression. In 1999 he established his art studio places. He also recorded images of himself and residence in Caochangdi, an enclave on and the people he met: the Chinese artists the northeast outskirts of Beijing. A selection of who visited him in his tiny apartment and unpublished photographs has been specifically his American friends, notably the poet Allen chosen for this exhibition. They depict Ai’s Ginsberg. In 1988 the mood of his photographs everyday and artistic activities as well as the changed radically, Ai moved away from these growth of the contemporary Chinese art scene in tranquil, casual portraits and townscapes and Beijing during the early 1990s. started to focus on the “dark sides” of urban life, on decay and homelessness, but also on the Provisional Landscapes, 2002–08 human rights demonstrations in the streets and This series was photographed between 2002 the police brutality accompanying them. By the and 2008 in various cities in China. Since end, he had “accumulated” more than 10,000 1949 all land in China has belonged to the photographs that were developed only after his State, which allows it to develop – and in return to Beijing in 1993. There are fascinating many cases demolish – large parcels of land correspondences to be detected between these without negotiations with landowners. Before photographs taken from day to day in New a new development is begun, vast empty plots York using an analogue camera and his digital suddenly appear. Where hutongs – the small photographs taken by the artist with a mobile houses and lanes characteristic of traditional phone and posted on his blog and his Twitter China – had recently stood, now lie only piles of account over the past few years (since 2005). rubble and debris. Sometimes entire villages are uprooted and relocated elsewhere, often withBeijing Photographs, 1993–2002 little compensation for the inhabitants. CenturiesWhen Ai Weiwei returned to China in 1993 of history and cultural heritage are destroyedto be near his ill father, he continued his overnight to make way for “progress”. Thesedocumentary-style photography, capturing landscapes are indeed only “provisional”, aeveryday moments of his new life in Beijing. He temporary void that marks the end of the oldquickly became immersed in the arts scene, way of life before the arrival of the new.
From Bird’s Nest, 2005–08 Fairytale 1 From Fairytale Portraits, 2007Beijing Airport Terminal 3, 2002–07 is an expensive delicacy eaten only on specialIn preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games, occasions. Although Ai eventually distancedBeijing underwent tremendous changes to its himself from the project as the opening of thelandscape. To accommodate the anticipated Olympics approached (he was critical of theinflux of visitors from all over the world a new Chinese government’s use of the Olympics asairport terminal was designed by Norman Foster propaganda), when asked why he participatedand construction began in 2004. At the time Ai in the design process he says he did so becausewas documenting the building of the Olympic he loves design. As with all of his projects,stadium, for which he served as artistic consultant, Ai religiously documented the construction,and proposed to do the same for Foster’s sometimes over a 24-hour period.project. Access to the site was highly restrictedand permission was granted only after a series Fairytale Portraits, 2007of triumphs over bureaucratic red tape. For Ai In 2007, Ai Weiwei was invited to participate inthis made it all the more important to record Documenta 12, one of the world’s most importantthe building’s progress as it evolved, as for him exhibitions of modern and contemporary art,architecture is not just about the end result of held every five years in Kassel, Germany. For hisa building but also the struggle, process and involvement Ai undertook arguably one of hisachievement of an idea from start to finish. These most ambitious art projects, which had manyimages are just a selection from an exhaustive layers and components. The centrepiece involvedrecord spanning more than four years. bringing 1,001 Chinese citizens to Kassel, as a kind of “living installation” and conduit for culturalBird’s Nest, 2005–08 exchange. In China, obtaining a passport – letAi Weiwei was part of a joint venture along alone a visa – for foreign travel is extremelywith Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Stefan difficult and, for most of the poor, more like aMarbach and Li Xinggang, chief architect of fairytale dream than a reality. For the project AiCADG (China Architecture Design and Research recruited Chinese people of all backgrounds fromGroup), to design the Beijing National Stadium to some 20 provinces in China: workers, farmers,host the 2008 Olympic Games, serving as artistic ethnic minorities, police officers, prison warders,consultant for the design. Given the seemingly artists, students, teachers, etc. Each personrandom placement of the numerous columns was photographed in China near the differentthat enclose the inner bowl, the stadium was embassies where they were interviewed prior tonicknamed The Bird’s Nest, which can also be getting their papers processed. The portraits showviewed as a compliment, as in China a bird’s nest the anxiety and hope of each individual.
Tiananmen From Blog Photographs, c.2005–09From Study of Perspective, 1995–2010Study of Perspective, 1995–2010 Earthquake, 2008–10The first Study of Perspective was shot in Tiananmen On 12 May 2008 a catastrophic earthquake ofSquare, Beijing, 1995, and the series is continually magnitude 8.0 on the Richter scale occurred ingrowing. It is a simple gesture that speaks the central province of Sichuan, China. Withinvolumes about the artist’s perspective on authority minutes, entire villages had been transformed toand the autonomous right of the individual to piles of rubble, killing at least 69,000 and leavingfreedom of expression. Each time, we see the almost 5 million people homeless. A week after thesame formula of the left arm extended forward, earthquake Ai travelled to the area to document themiddle finger raised against the backdrop of devastation. Staring at the hundreds of bags andiconic or symbolic landmarks from all over the belongings of innocent children strewn about, heworld. This “giving the finger” invites viewers to realised that all the effort and life before the disasterchallenge their own unquestioned deference hit had been sadly reduced to nothing but crumbledtowards established power, be it that of bricks, as a result of corruption and negligence. Thegovernments, institutions, beautiful landscapes or death of thousands of schoolchildren in shoddilycultural monuments. constructed schools became a sensitive political issue and Ai’s attempts to obtain an official list ofBlog Photographs, c.2005–09 fatalities was met with fierce resistance and evenAi Weiwei hosted a blog in China from 2005 to violence (he suffered head injuries in a police2009 before it was shut down by the Chinese beating in August 2009 that resulted in emergencyauthorities for its “politically sensitive” criticism of brain surgery to alleviate a cerebral hemorrhagethe government. He often posted photographs, a month later). The photographs serve to record ashowing everything from his everyday life and tragedy and also show Ai’s frustration with the lackjourneys to social and political issues. Only of accountability of those responsible. On his returna fraction of the 200,000 photographs in his to Beijing, Ai and his team gave their support to anarchives is shown here, but this sample is investigation into the student casualties, resulting innonetheless representative of the breadth of Ai’s a list of 5,385 names published on his blog on theinterests. For Ai these photographs are a way to first anniversary of the earthquake. He subsequentlyengage and connect with the world in order to also made a work entitled Remembering in 2009,promote open uncensored communication. The using 9,000 children’s backpacks on the facade ofentire blog archive was seized by the police the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany, spelling outduring Ai Weiwei’s detention. Fortunately a the sentence “She lived happily for seven years inpre-selection had already been made for the this world” in Chinese characters, a quote from oneexhibition before the police searched the studio. of the schoolchildren’s mothers.
From Earthquake, 2008–10 August 12, 2009 From Cell phone Photographs, 2009–10Cell Phone Photographs, 2009–10 decision to keep him in Beijing where his activitiesSince Ai Weiwei’s blog was shut down in 2009 could be better monitored by the government. Inhe has used Twitter as his online communication January 2011, by cover of night, demolition of theplatform. Embracing the technology of mobile- building commenced without any prior warning.phone cameras, Ai often takes photographs Ai went to the site early the next day, but by thewith his phone and transmits them immediately time he arrived the dismantling was already wellonto his Twitter page. Communication is under way. In just a few days all evidence thatinstantaneous, and netizens are able to see what the building had ever existed was meticulouslyis happening in real time. This immediacy is an removed, including the foundations, and theinteresting phenomenon, especially within the site was re-ploughed to look like an unassuminghighly monitored and censored media-sphere agricultural field. Fortunately, Ai kept a visualof China. News outlets are also able to access record of the process from its very beginning to itsthese images and transmit them via their own sites. untimely and unjust end.Information becomes viral and spreads faster thanever before. These mobile-phone photographsillustrate the breadth of Ai’s activities, as anartist and a committed advocate for freedom ofexpression and an open society.Shanghai Studio, 2010–11In early 2008 Ai was invited by the Shanghailocal government to build an arts and culturalstudio on the outskirts of the city. Though hehesitated for a long time, having given up hisarchitecture practice, the officials were insistentand seemingly sincere, repeatedly visiting him inBeijing. Eventually Ai conceded and constructioncommenced under the local council’s supervisionfor the next two years. However, immediatelyupon completion in August 2010, the authoritiesannounced it was an illegal building thatneeded to be torn down immediately. From Ai’sperspective this was clearly a politically informed
Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995related eventsz tour of the exhibition by Urs Stahel, curator z symposium related to the exhibition,Tuesday 21 February, 7pm with Pierre Haski, journalist and Director of Rue89, Urs Stahel, curator of the exhibition,z talk “La grande image n’a pas de forme“ and Marie-José Mondzain, philosopher, writer[The great picture has no form], by François Jullien, and Director of Research at the CNRS.philosopher and sinologist. What is at stake in Ai Weiwei’s work inIn this talk, François Jullien looks at Ai Weiwei’s today’s political, economic and social context?capacity to use diverse coexisting forms within What unites his artistic creations and hishis work. engagement as an artist activist?Friday 24 February, 7pm, in the auditorium Saturday 17 March, 2.30pm, in the auditoriumz Children First! z talk related to the exhibitions ”Ai Weiwei:visit and workshop “Cities in transformation“ Interlacing” and ”Berenice Abbott (1898–1991),Saturday 25 February, 31 March and 28 April, 3.30pm Photographs”, by Jean-Luc Nancy, philosopher. Both Berenice Abbott and Ai Weiwei pinpointz Young Visitors’ Tuesday Tours the architectural and urban evolutions of theirtour of the exhibitions ”Ai Weiwei: Interlacing” respective periods, while evoking the notionsand ”Berenice Abbott (1898–1991), Photographs”, of citizenship and community. Jean-Luc Nancywith a guide from the Jeu de Paume will examine the way these two artists treat suchTuesday 28 February, 6pm themes and will, in particular, consider the way their images function as artworks in relation toz discussion “Ai Weiwei : décryptage d’un their sociopolitical concerns.symbole” [Ai Weiwei: uncoding a symbol], Friday 30 March, 6pm, in the auditoriumwith Jean-Philippe Béja, researcher specialisingin contemporary China, Franck Renaud, Head of z publication: Ai Weiwei: Interlacing,the Asia-Pacific Service at Courrier international, texts by Daniela Janser, Urs Stahel, Philip TinariAlain Le Bacquer, photo-journalist, and Pierre Haski, and Carol Yinghua Lu, 496 pages, 17 x 23.5 cm,journalist and Director of Rue89. co-publication Steidl/éditions du Jeu de Paume,In partnership with Courrier international, €45Polka Magazine, Rue89 and France Info.Tuesday 6 March, 6.30pm, in the auditorium