有一种鸟

有一种鸟是永远也关不住的,不仅仅因为它的每片羽翼上都沾满了自由的光辉,更因为他在被关的时候得到了很多鸟儿的营救 ...

11/05/2011

栗宪庭 章诒和:艾未未是一个有创造性的艺术家 Ai Weiwei Is a Creative Artist

1957年夏季,高瑛怀孕了,她准备堕胎,因为她与艾青的事实婚姻,已受了许多 批评和严重处分。可艾青坚持要这个孩子。他说:“这是我们两个人的作品,也许是一个杰作。”(《我和艾青》北京月文艺出版社 第29页)
这个孩子起名艾未未,也真的是个杰作——我们有充分的理由说:艾未未是个有创造性的艺术家,而且还是一种有爱心、良知和社会任感的艺术策展人和社会活动家。

初知艾未未是在1980年的星星美展,看到他画的几幅水乡
油画。画面是常见的水乡风景,民居和河道用很轻松的线条勾勒出,尤其色彩处理,不是常规的写生路数,倒象传统中国文人画先勾线然后染色的方法,但也不“随类赋彩”,更无视画面物象的结构,而直接使用大笔触随意涂抹了数道谈谈的蓝色。他的胆大和随性,以及寻求中国绘画元素的转换,给我们留下了深刻的印象。
后来,艾未未去了美国,便不再知道他的消息。直到九十年代初、中期,由于都与“东村”的艺术家来往密切,才知道他给予了那些艰难的艺术家很多帮助。他还自费出过黑、灰、白三本有关东村和其他艺术家的作品介绍,尤其是东村的那些行为艺,都是最早刊载于这三本画册的。实际上,当时的整个中国艺术形式还处在严冬时期,马六明、朱冥就是那时因行为艺术而被抓捕的。艾未未那几本小册子,无疑起到大家相互交流和鼓励的作用。同时,九十年初中期的行为艺术资讯,也是通过这几本画册,最早免费散发到很多西方美术馆和批评家手中的。“才智透天机,论豪侠谁与齐,低头常有千般计。”此后的艾未未涉猎广泛,并以艺术策展人,艺术推广人,社会活动家,建筑师和艺术家的多重身份,一直活跃在中国和国际艺术界。
艾未未与瑞士艺术收藏家西克创办的年度新锐艺术家奖项,广邀国际和国内艺术批评家评选,虽然我们不认为它对中国当代艺术发 展有多广泛的影响,但是,起码对中国当代艺术更广泛地走向国际,以及扩展对中国当代艺术评判的视野,都起到了参考的作用。特别他与荷兰已故策展人汉斯合作 创办的艺术文件仓库,推介了不少当代中国新锐艺术家,在近十余年中国当代艺术的发展上,起到不可忽视的推动作用。与此同时,他创立的艺术空间,连同他为艺术家设计工作室都成为草场地艺术区最早的拓荒之作。如今草场地成为京城最活跃的艺术区域之一,无可否认:是他起到了一种旗帜性作用。另外,他还在海外做过不少中国当代艺术的推介工作。2007年,他在瑞士国家艺术博物馆策划的中国当代艺术展览《麻将》,是中国近十余年当代艺术在海外较全面的呈现。这对欧洲艺术界了解中国当代艺术的阶段性状况,无疑起到了架桥铺路的作用。
艾未未设计过不少建筑,当然大家都知道:艾未未是奥运会场馆鸟巢的艺术顾问。值得强调的是,他凭借最直接对材料的认识,把中国传统建筑材质的灰砖和红砖,以传统极繁的砌法,与现代水泥混浇的方式相结合,营造出一种明确的传统极繁肌理和现代极简造型的视觉气 氛。此后作为一种艾未未式的建筑风格,让他在国际和国内建筑界享有不小的名声。尤其是艾未未设计的《金华驻京办事处食堂》的餐厅,先用水泥压力板和玻璃裁 成墙的厚度,然后把这些裁好的水泥压力板和玻璃,组合成不规则的外墙体,直接解决了采光等功能问题。内部的隔墙和家具等,也都采用了同种材料的不同方式的 组合。艾未未这种寻求廉价材料和简便的建造方式,在疯狂和奢华的城市化进程中既是独特的,且带有启发性。

艾未未作为艺术家,深受杜尚和博伊斯的影响。放眼望去,二十世纪初、中叶以来,
世界现代艺术的发展,几乎没有人不受惠于这两位艺术导师的了。作为当代艺术与传统艺术的最大区别,就是这两位导师彻底改变了艺术家的手艺人角色,而让艺术家成为公共知识分子。具体而言,智慧和思想性,文化和社会事件的针对性,方式上的揶揄、刺激、反讽模仿,以及日常生活现成品的挪用和演绎等等,都是直接来源于日常生活本身的启发,站在公共生活中人的生存状态立场上,表达一个艺术家的感受、爱心和自由意 志,而非沉湎于传统文人的孤芳自赏,更不是作为一个手艺人津津乐道细枝末节的技巧。无论艺术的社会立场和爱心,还是视野和方式,近一百多年当代艺术积累的 新经验,都是对传统艺术语言极大的拓展与挑战。所以,如果离开当代艺术在近一百多年建立的这种基本准则,就根本无从评价和了解艾未未及其所有当代艺术的革 命性发展。
在艾未未最招致一些非议的作品中,是那些“戏仿”西方美术史 名作形态的作品。如他的《喷泉灯》(Fountain of Light,首次展出在英国的 Tate liverpool)。戏仿的作品是苏联艺术家Tatlind的《第三国际纪念塔》,Tatlin分别在1920年,1924年,1925年做过三个《第 三国际纪念塔》的模型,高5或者6米。其中心结构体是由玻璃制成的一个立方体和一个圆柱体组成的核心,建筑内部还有很多功能性的设计。建成后将比当时世界 最高318米的纽约帝国大厦还高出一倍。这个纪念塔最终没有建成,但其方案及 模型给人留下了深刻的印象。这个建筑方案实际成了共产主义运动的雕塑,并成为现代艺术运动中结构主义和功利主义精神的标志。艾未未“戏仿”的作品《喷泉 灯》,做成了一个由钢结构和水晶玻璃构成的大型彩灯,高七米,底座直径六米,比《第三国际纪念塔》模型还高大,幽默而发人深省。对艾未未这件作品的意义和 解读,首先需要借用对Tatlin《第三国际纪念塔》的解读,或者说艾未未的《喷泉灯》,与Tatlin的《第三国际纪念塔》,由于它们在美术史和国际共 运史中构成了一种上下文关系,所以,让人看到的是这两件作品以及与这两件作品相关联的社会含义。艾未未的《喷泉灯》彩灯和喷泉的形态,令我们直接联想的是 中国城市化进程中诸如“灯光工程”“广场喷泉”的一种映射;或者说,两件作品让人看到的是对国际共运一前一后浮夸的讽刺。


使用不同的材质和不同的体量,在不同的环境里,戏仿或者叫滑稽模仿、反讽模仿艺术史上的名作,利用美术史及其相关联的社会情境的上下文关系,在新的语境中 以构成新的含义,早已成为近百年现代和当代艺术的一种语言模式。诸如杜尚在蒙娜丽莎嘴上画两撇胡子的作品,就是首先模仿蒙娜丽莎这件名画作为蓝本,这件作 品所演绎的含义才能成立。六十年代美国波普艺术中此类作品更是数不胜数,诸如罗伊•里奇滕斯坦的《杰作》,就是选择上世纪五十年代流行于美国的漫画形象作 为仿照对象。安迪• 渥霍的32幅仿照坎贝尔浓汤罐头和仿照梦露照片的系列丝网版画,更是家喻户晓。到了本世纪八、九十年代,国际艺术和摄影界 形成一股摆拍风潮,而在这个风潮中,把艺术史名作作为戏仿对象的作品比比皆是,中外艺术家多有涉足。在艾未未的作品中有不少此类作品被指为抄袭,实在是一 种对美术史的无知。艾未未的《一顿茶》(展出于日本MORI)的戏仿对象,是Johannes Stüttgen等人用100公斤蜂蜜做成的立方体的《不是艺术/ 商品!》。其实,那100公斤蜂蜜的立方体,用来纪念博伊斯,谁都知道这本身就是来自博伊斯著名的《工作场中的抽蜂蜜泵》和《油脂椅子》。油脂和蜂蜜挽救 了在战争中负伤的博伊斯,所以博伊斯用蜂蜜和油脂做了《工作场中的抽蜂蜜泵》和《油脂椅子》,尤其是《油脂椅子》作为一个带斜面的立体造型,才启发了 Stüttgen等人用100公斤蜂蜜做了一个立方体以纪念博伊斯,所以,两者之间在造型和材质方面才能够形成一种上下文的关系。艾未未的《一顿茶》,玩 的也是材料和体量的置换,只是,茶的材质和一吨重形成的大体量,给观众带来的含义就发生了变化。就如同100公斤蜂蜜象征的博伊斯精神,而一顿茶对于中国 人的含义是什么?两者之间一定会形成一种对比和新的联想。
事实上,艾未未一直期望从中国传统材质和中国传统结构的转换中寻求新的意义,他尤其迷恋中国传统家具的红木材质和榫卯结构的感觉。他做的红木足球模型《预 言》(Divina,大的直径两米五十公分,小的直径一米七十公分,展出地点日本MORI和慕尼黑HAUS DE KUNST),该作品以红木为材质,以极其精细的制作,超大于真实足球直径十倍或数倍的体量,给人一种既荒谬又有某种真切的感觉:中国人对足球的超级迷 恋,以及对中国足球的极端失望,心理上有种把足球这项体育运动与国家是否强大挂钩的倾向。但艾未未的“足球”,由于类似中国传统家具的精工细作和超大的框 架,却给出一种足球的力量感与红木家具的精巧感觉之间的巨大反差。艾未未同类作品还有那个著名的红木中国地图,以及戏仿极简主义艺术家Sol LeWitt1991年那件象廊子的作品等等,与极简主义同样,艾未未在这些作品里,在乎的就是材质和结构,只是他通过戏仿,让人集中观看的是中国传统材 质与独特榫卯结构的美感。
最近,在美国大都会展出的《生肖兽头》(Zodiac Heads)戏仿的是圆明园西洋建筑海晏堂十二生肖的喷水雕塑。圆明园这组西洋建筑被毁,以及兽首的丢失的故事已经家喻户晓,尤其是由中国公司耗费巨资从 西方买回后,尽管几乎所有文物专家都认为该兽首买的物非所值,但是所造成的超级爱国新闻,实际成为这家公司最好的广告。正是基于此,艾未未戏仿了这组兽 首,而且所有兽首全部采用铸铜和鎏金的奢华制作,并以三米多高即超出原兽首十倍左右的尺寸面世。当巨大的金灿灿的十二个兽首矗立在人们面前时,给人的感觉 是:以奢华的制作,给兽首的“爱国买卖”开了一个玩笑。有趣的是这个故事尚未完结,如果美国著名的大都会博物馆收藏这组作品的话,艾未未等于把本来不是按 照中国审美系统雕刻的生肖兽头,复制一套卖给老外,而且他们还得花大价钱。那么,中国公司耗费巨资买回被掠夺去的兽头,与艾未未戏仿兽头卖给老外赢得巨 资,哪个更爱国?哪个更有智慧?
当然,艾未未最让一些人恼火的是他一系列行动,其实,在我们看来艾未未压根儿就不是一个政治家,尽管他的行为包含政治因素,但那是艺术,行为艺术或者事件 艺术。况且行为艺术本质就是自由的生命活动,行为艺术的创作也往往超过人们对常态生活的一般理解和感官承受。这样就会很自然地与国家意识形态生出一定程度 的疏离感和紧张性,甚至带有诋毁,反叛,对立色彩。所以,我们在这里要郑重地说:政治是有纲领、目标和有组织的活动,但艾未未的行为或者他策划的事件不是 政治活动,而是基于表达一个个人的情绪和感觉为目的。艾未未的行为或者事件所具有的公共性质,使他的这类作品具有了一种创造性。说清楚这点,我们有必要简 单梳理一下中国的行为艺术发展脉络。中国的行为艺术发展大致经历了四个阶段,第一个阶段是1985-1987年,文化批判热是当时社会的整体气氛。那时的 行为艺术多采取在长城、十三陵等具有文化标志的地方,采用包裹自己的方式来表达文化对个人的束缚。第二个阶段是1990年代初期,以事件性和波普性质为特 征,和当时的消费文化和商业文化相关联,包括摇滚、流行歌曲、绘画都有这种波普性质,带有一种政治反讽性。诸如艺术家扮演雷锋做好事,以及给矿工送毛巾等 模仿毛泽东时期社会行为作为特点。第三个阶段是1990年代中期,一些艺术家聚集在北京长城饭店东边麦子店的地方,大家称它为东村。东村的艺术家以行为艺 术知名,作品特别强调使用自身的肢体语言,多以自虐为特色,来表达生存的艰难。第四个阶段则以艾未未的行为和事件艺术作为标志。这个时期鲜明的特点,与此 前仅仅在艺术小圈子里探索截然不同的,是它的社会公共事件性质,强调与特定的社会语境相关联,强调爱心与社会责任感和对社会的批判性,强调与公众的交流。 所以是艾未未把中国当代艺术的内部探索真正推向社会,推向公众,让公众理解并参与他的——也是与当下人的生活密切关联的当代艺术。这也同时使他的行为或事 件艺术,形成了自己的语言特色。他还深知中国社会空间的变化——网络世 界的出现,并善于利用公共媒体尤其是网络世界,这使得他的行为或者事件艺术,具有了创造性的标志——“网络标题党”的特色。每一个行为或事件都有响亮和容 易记忆和流传的特征:《公民调查》——汶川地震死亡学生的调查名单。《七一罢网》——2010年七一号召网友罢网一天。《老妈蹄花》——用手机及时记录自 己被别有用心的人暴力伤害等等。总之,他的作品通过对社会事件的关注,通过表达自己的爱心和愤怒,以及反抗的态度和无畏的精神,并与广大网友达到了共识、 共愤和共爱。
毫无疑义,艾未未近几年的言论、作品尤其是行为,不但显示出其特有的语言特征和力量感,而且通过他的作品,也向社会和公众昭告了当代艺术对人当下生存状态关注的基本姿态。

为什么要这样做?艾未未写于1978年1月4日的一封信里,做了最好的诠释。他写道:“(过去的)回忆是无穷尽的,它像毒蛇一般侵蚀了我们幼小的灵魂。但 我们并没有因之而死亡。相反,我则要求自己活得更好一些!二十年来,愚蠢,无能,无知,软弱……如今略有清醒。活着,要自己主宰自己,要有目的的生活,要 走自己的路。”


说这话,他21岁。



2011年5月
来源:http://hey.ionly.com.cn/viewthread.php?tid=38885

英文:

Is a Creative Artist

By and

In the summer of 1957, Gao Ying was pregnant. But she was planning an abortion because her marriage (in all but name) with Ai Qing was the focus of criticism and was being severely punished. But Ai Qing insisted on keeping the baby. He said, “This is a work by both of us. Maybe it will be a masterpiece.” [1]

This baby was named Ai Weiwei, and indeed, it was a masterpiece. We have abundant reason to say: Ai Weiwei is a creative artist, as well as an art curator and social activist who is guided by love, conscience, and a sense of social responsibility.

I first got to know Ai Weiwei during the Star Exhibition in 1980, after seeing several of his water landscape oil paintings. The paintings showed picturesque scenes commonly seen in China’s water towns. Very fluid lines sketched the contours of residences and the river’s course. The coloring especially was not of a conventional sketching style; rather, it resembled the Chinese literati Southern School. The color was added after outlining. His lines were neither constrained by the rules of conventional color application nor the structure of the physical image. Rather, several lines of blue were painted in bold brushstrokes. We were so impressed by his boldness and casualness, and his pursuit of the transformation of Chinese painting elements.

Later, Ai Weiwei went to the US, and we heard no news of him. Until the early and mid-1990s, when we were in contact with the artists in Beijing’s East Village, we learned that he had provided a great deal of help to artists facing difficulties. He also paid for the publication of Black Cover Book (1994), White Cover Book (1995) and Grey Cover Book (1997) with his own money, to introduce artists’ works, especially performance art in the East Village. Actually, in those days, the entire Chinese art world was still in a period of deep freeze. Artists Ma Liuming and Zhu Ming were both arrested because of their performance art. So the three books undoubtedly helped bond and encourage the artist community. More than that, the first information about Chinese performance art was passed on to many western art museums and critics through these albums free of charge. “Talent and intelligence, no gallants could compare to him. Draw back, he has thousands of wonderful plans.” [2] After this, Ai Weiwei devoted himself widely to various fields and has been active as an independent curator, arts promoter, social activist, architect and artist in Chinese and international arts communities.

With Swiss collector Uli Sigg, Ai Weiwei co-founded the Annual Young Artist Award and invited critics from China and abroad to join the judges’ panel. Though we don’t think the Award had a significant impact on the development of Chinese contemporary art, it provided a reference for the future development in the international arena and expanded Chinese artists’ aesthetic judgments of contemporary art. He co-founded China Art Archives & Warehouse with the late Dutch curator Hans Van Dijk and promoted exhibitions of many contemporary avant-garde Chinese artists. Spanning a decade, the CAAW has played a remarkable role promoting the development of Chinese contemporary art. Almost at the same time, he established his own studio, together with the studios he designed for other artists, became the earliest groundbreaking work of the Caochangdi Art District. Nowadays Caochangdi Art District is one of the most active art districts in Beijing; without a doubt, his was a banner project. Furthermore, he did remarkable work to promote China’s contemporary art overseas. In 2007, he was curator of an exhibition “Mahjong” at Musée Schweizerisches Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum), which was an overview of Contemporary Chinese art during the past decade. He is no doubt a bridge helping the European art circle to understand milestones of China’s contemporary art development.

Ai Weiwei designed a large number of architectural works, and of course the world knows that he was the artistic consultant for the Olympic “Bird’s Nest” Stadium. What is worth stressing is that in the design, he created a combination of red and gray bricks- common materials in Chinese traditional architecture, with the modern concrete in a miscellaneous tangle. The combination has a striking visual effect that reveals both the traditional intricate texture and modern simplicity. This style later became Ai Weiwei’s symbolic design and won him a reputation both in China and global architecture fields. Especially in “the Dining Hall project in the Jinhua Architectural Art Park”, his design solved lighting and other functional problems. Fiber cement board and glass were cut into the wall and were assembled into irregularly-shaped exterior curtain walls. The interior walls and furniture were all assembled of various materials in diverse formats. Ai Weiwei’s attempt at simple construction with cheap materials is so unique and inspiring amid the insane and extravagant urbanization.

As an artist, Ai Weiwei was deeply influenced by Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys. But if we take a broader view of the developing path of contemporary art since the early 1900s, no artist has not benefited from these two mentors. They radically changed the identity of from craftsperson to public intellectual, thereby differentiating them from traditional artists. Specifically, wisdom and ideology, interpretation of cultural and social incidents, mockery, incitement, parody and irony in the modes of expression, and the figurative interpretation of existing articles in daily life — all these originated from the inspiration of daily life. It’s the feeling, love and unchained will of an artist based on his living status and position in the public sphere. It’s neither indulgence in self-recognition as a traditional literati nor the meticulous but minute technical details as a craftsman. Regardless of art’s social position and love, or the vision and approach, nearly a hundred years of contemporary art’s accumulated experience has challenged traditional art. So without such basic principles established over the past century in the contemporary art field, any attempt to evaluate and understand Ai Weiwei and the revolutionary development of contemporary art will be in vain.

Among his most controversial works, there are “parodies” of the masterpieces in Western art history. For example, his work “Foundation of Light,” exhibited at Tate Liverpool, is apparently a parody of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International. Tatlin had made three models of the Monument to the Third International in 1920, 1924 and 1925. All three models were five or six meters high. In the center of the structure was a core consisting of a cube and cylinder, both made of glass; the interior of the building included many functional design elements. If constructed, The Monument was to be twice the height of the 318-meter-high Empire State in New York, the highest building in the 1920s. Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International existed only in model form, but the idea and the model were both impressive. The proposal was regarded as a work of architecture commemorating the Communist revolution, so the design became a symbol of constructivism and utilitarianism. Ai Weiwei’s design “The Fountain of Light”, is a large-scale chandelier of steel and crystal. It is seven meters high and its pedestal’s diameter is six meters. To understand and interpret this work, one must first borrow the interpretation of Tatlin’s “Monument to the Third International”. Or we should say Weiwei’s “The Fountain of Light” and Tatlin’s “Monument to the Third International” have a corresponding relationship in the context of the history of international communism, so the audience sees the two works have corresponding social implications. The chandelier and foundation in Weiwei’s “Fountain of Light” directly connect us to the clumsy “lighting project” and “square fountains” erected all over China in its urbanization process. Or if we look at the two works in an historical perspective, they become an exaggerated satire of international communism.

Using different materials and textures from those in the original artistic masterpieces can be a way to parody or mock, and hence create a new meaning in a new context. For example, the caricature that adds a moustache on the face of Mona Lisa is based on the original version of The Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s famous masterpiece, and this is the primary condition for the works’ connotation. There are numerous works such as this in the wave of American pop art in the 1960s. Another example is Roy Lichtenstein’s “Masterpiece” whose images were borrowed from popular cartoons from the 1950s in the US. Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” and silk screened portraits of Marilyn Monroe are world famous. In the 1980s and 1990s, more masterpieces were subject to parody. Chinese artists, like artists in other countries, have created many works following this momentum. Those who criticized Weiwei for plagiarizing in some of his works, were actually ignorant of art history. Weiwei’s “A Ton Of Tea” (exhibited at Mori Art Museum, Tokyo) is a parody of “Not Art/Goods!”, a cube made by Johannes Stüttgen and others using 100 kilograms of honey to commemorate Joseph Beuys, and it is known by everybody that this idea is based on the “Honey Pump in the Workplace” and “Chair with Grease.” Especially “Chair with Grease” is a three-dimensional object with an angular surface and this inspired Stüttgen and his colleagues to build a cube of 100 kilograms of honey to commemorate Beuys. Thus there is the possibility of forming a correspondence between two sculptures, on both the model and the texture. So Ai Weiwei replaces material and volume, but the message conveyed to the audience will show the contrast between the material of tea and the huge volume weighing one ton. The 100-kilograms of honey symbolizes Beuys spirit, but what does a ton of tea represent in Chinese culture? Such a relationship between the two will certainly create a new contrast and association of ideas.

In fact, Ai Weiwei has been longing to find new meaning in the adaptation of traditional Chinese textures and structures, and he is especially obsessed with rosewood and the mortise and tenon joints that are commonly found in traditional Chinese furniture. His Huanghuali wood sculptures Divina Proportion (the bigger one, with a 2.5 meter diameter, exhibited in Mori Tokyo, and the smaller one, with a 1.7 meter diameter, exhibited in Haus De Kunst in Munich) presents a giant wood soccer ball ten times the size of the real soccer ball. Huanghuali wood, a luxurious Chinese red wood, was exquisitely carved into an extravagant structure, thereby creating a sensory combination of absurdness and reality. Chinese soccer fans are obsessed with the sport with a nationalist expectation that it could win China honor as a super power. But in reality, they are repeatedly disappointed by the mediocre performance of Chinese soccer teams. Psychologically, such disappointment reflects a psychological tendency to link the victory of Chinese soccer to a symbol of China’s prosperity as a superpower. Weiwei’s soccer sculpture, its powerful structure and meticulously tender red wood technique, represents the contrast between the power of soccer and the delicacy of red wood antiques. His similar famous works include the Huanghuali wood sculpture “Map of China” and “Cubic Meter Tables,” 2009 which is a parody of a cubic design by Sol LeWitt, 1991. Under the principles of minimalism, Ai Weiwei cares only about texture and structure; he simply wants to stress full attention on the aesthetic sensibility of the beautiful wood and the nail-free furniture joinery techniques.

The Zodiac Heads went on display last week in New York. Weiwei’s design is a parody based on a famous water clock designed by European Jesuits for the Western-style gardens of the Summer Palace during the reign of Manchu emperor Qianlong in the 18th century. The originals, with the western-style gardens, were looted in 1860 at the end of the Opium War by French and English troops, which has never been forgotten in China. Some of the Zodiac heads were retrieved from the west by Chinese companies with an enormous amount of capital, although almost all antique experts thought the deal wasn’t worth the money. But the patriotic news actually became the best advertisement for the companies involved. Based on this background, Ai Weiwei designed this circle of Zodiac Heads. All the twelve heads are made in cast copper and gilt bronze, 3-meters high, almost ten times larger than the originals. When twelve giant shiny gold zodiac heads confront the audience, they imply a message that Ai might just want to tell the world: that the luxurious fabrication of the dozen heads, just like that expensive “patriotic buy-back”, is totally a joke. What is more interesting is that this isn’t yet the end of the story. If the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art plans to collect this circle of heads in the US, that means Weiwei is selling a set of duplicates that were in no case created using Chinese aesthetics and sold to foreigners who would like to collect at a price. Then, which way is more patriotic? Who is more intelligent? The buy-back of the looted original Zodiac Heads by Chinese companies or Ai Weiwei?

Of course, the most offensive part about Ai Weiwei in some people’s eyes is his series of actions. In fact, in our point of view, Ai Weiwei has never been a politician, although some of his behavior indeed contains political elements. But that is art, performance art or event art. Besides, performance art by its nature is freedom in life’s activities, and acts of artistic creation often go beyond people’s general understanding and senses in ordinary life. This will naturally lead to aloofness from or clashes with the state ideological apparatus, and furthermore have the nature of defamation, rebellion and defiance. Therefore, we must hereby make a solemn statement that politics is an activity with an agenda, objects and organization, but Ai’s behavior or the events he designed are not political campaigns. Rather, they are aimed at expressing emotional and sensory feeling as an individual. His behavior and events are of a certain public nature, and his works in this category are somehow creative.

A review of the history of China’s performance art will be necessary here to help elaborate our statement. It has gone through four phases. The first phase is from 1985 to 1987 when cultural criticism was fermented in the whole society. Performance art was usually conducted in the sites of cultural symbolic meanings, such as the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. Artists bound themselves up, suggesting the suppression on individual expression. The second phase lasted until the early 1990s, and was featured with waves of events and popular art. This was related to the culture of consumption and commercialism. Rock and roll, pop music, popular painting all presented a political irony. For example, there were performances symbolizing social behavior during the Mao Era. Artists acted as Lei Feng [a well-known army solder who personified altruism in the 1960s] doing good deeds or passing towels to coalminers. The third phase was from early 1990s to the mid-1990s, when some artists started gathering in the East Village, a place near Maizidian, which is where Beijing’s Great Wall Hotel is now located in the east part of Beijing. It was named East Village and was known as an avant-garde artistic community in the early 1990s. Their works stressed body language and featured autosadism to express the hardship of living through troubled times. And the fourth phase was featured by Ai Weiwei’s performance art. Distinctively different from the previous phases, in this phase Ai Weiwei went beyond the general public. His works emphasize relevance to a certain social context, stressing love and social responsibility, social criticism and communication with the public. So it’s Ai Weiwei who truly pushed the spectrum of China’s contemporary art, from introvert to a broader spectrum that cast full attention on society, the public, and created a channel for the public to understand and take part in his contemporary art, which is closely related to the people’s current lives. Ai Weiwei thus created his own idiom for performance art. He knew too well that the public sphere in China was changed with the emergence of the cyber world. He was also skillful at using public media, especially the Internet. This led to his creative slogan: “The internet headline party”. Every performance or event art had a catchy and easy to circulate characteristic such as “Public investigation” on the list of the names of children killed in the Wenchuan Sichuan Earthquake; “The July 1st Web Boycott” — calling on Internet users not to use the web on July 1, 2010; “The Old Mother Kicking the Flowers” — using a cell phone to make on-the-spot recordings of violent people with ulterior motives.

Ai Weiwei’s works draw attention to events in society; by expressing his own feelings of love and anger, his own resistance, and fearlessness he has helped many Internet users reach a consensus, share their anger, and share the love.

No doubt, his remarks, works and especially behavior in recent years have not only presented his unique narrative and sense of power, but have also demonstrated to the society and public contemporary art’s basic concern for the existential status of humanity.

Why did he do this? In a letter written on January 4th 1978 , Ai Weiwei gave his best explanation. He said: “The endless memory (of the past) poisoned our young souls like snakes, but it didn’t kill us. On the contrary, I just require a better life for myself! For twenty years, there has been stupidity, incompetence, ignorance and weakness, and only now am I becoming a bit more clear-headed. Live, and be your own master. To lead a life of purpose, take your own road.”

When he wrote this, he was 21.

May 2011

[1] from Gao Ying’s memoir: Me and Ai Qing, Beijing October Literature Publishing House, page 29.

[2] a line from a poem written by Li Xianting

Li Xianting is an independent art critic and curator of contemporary Chinese art. He was actively involved with introducing avant-garde art forms to China in the 1970s and 80s and is frequently described as the Godfather of in China. Currently he is the Director of the Songzhuang Art Museum in Beijing. Zhang Yihe is known as one of the most famous and controversial authors in China. She has published a series of best-selling historic books including the Past Has Never Gone, and Old Stories of Peking Opera Actors that have been popular among the global Chinese community but were banned on the mainland. Also as a daughter of Zhang Bojun, who was named No.1 rightist in China during the Anti-rightist campaign created by Mao Zedong in 1957, she was jailed for ten years by the Chinese Communist Party and was released in 1979 after being rehabilitated. She now lives in Beijing as an opera researcher and writer. In 2007, she started a campaign, joined by mainland liberals and writers, to campaign against the Chinese publication authorities’ order to ban her book.

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