Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Ai Weiwei
However Ai suspects that the order may be linked to two high-profile campaigns that have embarrassed and angered the Shanghai government in recent years. In 2008, Ai was instrumental in turning the case of Yang Jia, a man who stabbed six policeman to death after being arrested and beaten for riding an unlicensed bicycle, into an internet cause-celebre. This year Ai made a documentary to highlight the plight of a Shanghai-based activist-lawyer called Feng Zhenghu, who spent more than 100 days marooned at Tokyo's Narita airport after being refused entry to China eight times by Shanghai officials.

Last year Ai underwent cranial surgery after being beaten by police in Sichuan province when he went to give evidence in support of another activist, Tan Zuoren, who was jailed for investigating the collapse of thousands of schools in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008.

Ai, who is a relentless user of the microblog Twitter, is best known for co designing Beijing's Olympic stadium, the Birds Nest, which some hoped would herald a more open China. Ai has since renounced that work as a "fake smile".

"I think the intention is not have Mr Ai back in Shanghai after my involvement in those two cases," Ai added, "this is not about money. They have agreed to pay me back the money. It's about China after the Olympics, after the [Shanghai] Expo. These officials have no basic sense of truth. No morals." [Hey! They're paying you back!] To mark the demolition of the studio, Ai has issued an open invitation, via Twitter, to a party this Sunday at which he will serve 10,000 river crabs, a local delicacy but also an extravagant jibe at local officialdom.

In Chinese the word for river crab, "hexie", sounds very similar to that for "harmony", the ideological buzzword of the current regime which is frequently used ironically by Chinese internet users – as in "my new art studio has just been 'harmonised'."
Buyer beware. Ai is an "architect" who once showed a client a set of drawings then built something different and cheaper, splitting the cash with the contractor. The other building his contractor built on the site was designed by a boutique American firm, and if anything that was a bigger disaster, though the worst that could be said of the contractor in that case was that he did what he was told and laughed all the way to the bank. I'm sure Ai got a cut of that too.  At this point I'm willing to bet Ai signed on to the stadium project -as "artistic consultant"- always planning to attack it once it got built and he got paid, mixing politics, showmanship and greed. A brilliant way to play the game. All of this reflects on the work but not on the question of whether it's any good or not.

Study in Perspective: The White House, Tiananmen Square, Eiffel Tower, 
3 from a series of 7 Gelatin silver prints, each: 15 5/16" x 23 1/4", 1995-2003
Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, B/W prints each: 47 5/8" x 58 1/4"), 1995
As he said later, the 3 photographs are now more valuable than the 2000 year old pot he destroyed.

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