英文翻译:艾未未是一个有创造性的艺术家 — 栗宪庭 与 章诒和 的文章

艾未未是一个有创造性的艺术家

栗宪庭 与 章诒和

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》北京十月文艺出版社第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、良知和社会责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术,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的工作室,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,以及日常生活中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《不是艺术品/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。

英文翻译

20115

Ai Weiwei is a Creative Artist

by Li Xianting  栗宪庭   and Chang Yihe 章诒和

In summer 1957, Gao Ying was pregnant. She was about to have an abortion because the marriage in all but name she has with Ai Qing attracted had resulted in much criticism and punishment. But Ai Qing was determined that they would have this baby. He said, “This child is the work of both of us, and it is a masterpiece!” p. 29, Ai Qing and I, published by the Beijing October Arts Publishing House.

That child named Ai Weiwei and was indeed a masterpiece. I can say with good reason that Ai Weiwei is a creative artist and is a art exhibitor and social activist motivated by love, his conscience and a feeling of social responsibility.

I first met Ai Weiwei at the “Stars” exhibit in 1980. There I saw several of his paintings of rivers and lakes. The subject was conventional but the way he outlined people and rivers in outline and especially his use of color was not. It was not a conventional realistic sketch of a scene from nature. No, it resembled more the drawings that Chinese scholars sketch before applying paint yet its use of color was not conventional in that it ignored the structure of image, applying a broad brush to several daubs of blue. His daring and willful style and his efforts to transform the elements of Chinese traditional artistic composition left a deep impression.

Later, Ai Weiwei went to the United States and I didn’t hear anything more of him. Not until the middle or late 1990s, because I was in close touch with some artists form the “East Village” that I heard that he was giving a lot of help to those impoverished artists. He even paid for the publication of the books — the Black, the Grey and the White — that introduced the East Village artists and their works, and in particular their performance art. Those three books were the first publications describing their art. In those days, the entire Chinese art world was still in a period of deep freeze. Ma Liuming and Zhu Ming were arrested then because of their performance art. Those small volumes by Ai Weiwei did a great deal to put everyone in touch with one another and encouraging us. The performance art of the early 1990s became known through those small volumes when they reached western art museums and critics. “Talent and wisdom penetrates nature’s mysteries, if some one is a gallant, who can anyone else compare to him? To one who bows his head and thinks deeply, often many stratagems and plans will emerge.” Later Ai Weiwei’s work became widely known in many different personae such as organizer of art exhibits, an art promoter, social activist, architect, and artist. He was constantly active in the Chinese and international art worlds.

Ai Weiwei and Swiss art collector  Uli Sigg created an annual avant-garde art award and invited both international and Chinese domestic artists to criticize and judge the entries. Although we don’t thing this award had any great influence on the development of Chinese modern art, it did at least make Chinese modern art better known abroad and opened the eyes of art critics to the broader range of Chinese modern art and served as a reference point for critical evaluations of Chinese modern art. Especially important was the art documents archive that Ai Weiwei established together with the now-deceased Dutch art exhibitor Hanse. Moreover, Ai Weiwei created art exhibition spaces and designed work spaces for artists. Ai Weiwei was the first to open up the Caochang art district of Beijing, which is now one of the most lively art districts of Beijing. Ai Weiwei has certainly been very active in creating locales where artists can rally together. He has also been very active in promoting Chinese modern art abroad. In 2007, he designed “Mahjong” a Chinese modern art exhibit at the Swiss National Museum which was one of the best exhibits of Chinese modern art work of the past decade shown abroad. this exhibit helped the European art world the state of Chinese modern art and created links between it and Chinese artists.

Ai Weiwei has designed many buildings and everyone knows he designed the Bird Cage at the Beijing Olympic Stadium. In the construction of the Bird Cage, he relied on his understanding of the nature of building materials, using traditional Chinese building materials such as gray and red brick and cut in the traditional way and mixed it with modern concrete construction. Thus he created a vision that combined a skin with rich traditional elements with a simple modernistic form. The distinctive Ai Weiwei architectural style became well known in both China and abroad. Especially in his design of the “Restaurant of the Jinhua Representative Office in Beijing”, he combined pressurized concrete slab and glass in the thickness of a wall then used this irregular concrete slab and glass mix to make an irregular exterior wall to solve lighting and other problems for the space. The interior walls and furniture used combinations of these same materials in different ways. Ai Weiwei’s construction style use of inexpensive and simple building materials amidst the frenetic and luxurious buildings going up constantly as China urbanizes are an inspiration.

Ai Weiwei as an artist has been deeply influenced by Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys. Looking back to the beginning to the Twentieth Century and from mid-century down to the present day, all artists learned from those two great leaders of the art world. The greatest distinction between traditional and modern art is that it changes the role of the artist from craftsman to public intellectual. In practice, this art was characterized by wisdom and ideology, relevance to culture and events in society along with ridicule, satire, and mimicry; using and diverting materials from everyday life. All this because this modern art was inspired by daily life and takes the perspective people living their daily lives together. This art conveys the feelings, love and free will of the artist. It is not grounded, like traditional art, in the isolating, self-admiring styles. Still less is it merely a collection of techniques with which artists amuse themselves. No matter whether it is the artist’s social position and concerns, or the artists perspectives and techniques, the accumulated experience of artists in the modern art field for nearly a century, modern art is a great advance and challenge compared with traditional art. Therefore if we leave behind the basic reference points established in modern art over nearly a century, we will be completely helpless as we try to evaluate Ai Weiwei’s art and the revolutionary progress of modern art.

The most controversial of Ai Weiwei’s works have been those that have been informed by the shapes of famous art objects from the history of Western art. For example, “Fountain of Light” that was first exhibited at Tate Liverpool in the UK. The imitations style was originated by the Soviet artist Tatlin who created models in 1920, 1924 and 1925 of “The Third International Memorial Tower” of 5 – 6 meters in height. The center of the model was a glass cube with a cylindrical core. Within the structure were many functional elements. The building, once complete, was planned to be twice as high as New York’s Empire State Building, then at 318 meters, the tallest building in the world. This building was never built but its plan and model left a lasting impression. This plan forged the style of the sculpture of the communist world and became a symbol for structuralism and functionalism in modern art movement.

Ai Weiwei’s playful imitation works “Fountain of Light” was a colored light made of structural steel and glass crystal seven meters high and six meters in diameter at its base. “Fountain of Light” is taller than the “Third International Memorial Tower” model. This drew laughter and made people think. To understand the significance of this work to Ai Weiwei and its interpretation, we need first to consider Tatlin’s interpretation of the “Third International Memorial Tower”. These models form the context of modern art and the history of the international communist movement. Let’s consider these two works of art and the social meaning attached to them. Ai Weiwei’s “Fountain of Light” is in the form of a lamp and a fountain. This directly leads us to thinking of it as an reference to the “lighting projects” and the “plaza fountains” often seen in Chinese urban development projects. That is, both art works are a satire of the boastful exaggeration in the international communist movement, one from the early period and one from a later one.

Using different materials and different forms, in different environments, call it playful mimicry or a comedic imitation, they are landmarks in the history of satiric art. Using the context of art history and its related social environment, new meanings were created for a new linguistic environment. It has already become a linguistic pattern for the past century of modern and contemporary art. Just as Marcel Duchamp drew a mustache on the Mona Lisa, so to the meaning of the derivative work is deduced from the work that served as its model. Many art works like that were produced in the U.S. pop art movement of the 1960s. One example is Roy Lichenstein’s work in which he used many cartoon panels from the 1950s as the object of his imitations.

Andy Warhol made the well-known 32 silk screen works imitating Campbell soup cans and Marilyn Monroe. During the 1980s and 1990s, the international art and photography world were caught in a storm amidst all the famous art works of history became the topic for humorous imitations. Artists all over the world joined in this movement. Many of Ai Weiwei’s works are like this and have been criticized as being mere copies. This criticism just displays ignorance about art history. Ai Weiwei’s “Having Tea” (exhibited in Mori, Japan) is a playful imitation is a play on the works of 100 artists including Johannes Stuttgen who used 100 kilograms of honey to made the cubical work “This is not an art work, it is a product!”

That cube of 100 kilograms of honey was a memorial to Joseph Beuys. Everyone know that this comes from Beuys’ famous works “A Honey Pump in Operation” and “The Oily Chair”. Oil and honey saved the life of Beuys who was wounded in battle, therefore Buys used honey and oil to create “A Honey Pump in Operation” and “The Oily Chair”. In particular, the “Oily Chair” is a solid body with an inclined plane. It was this that inspired Stuttgen and that group of 100 artists to create a 100 kilogram solid of honey in memory of Beuys. Therefore between the two works, in both form and materials, there is a context. In Ai Weiwei’s “Having Tea” the artist’s game was replacing the material and the form. The material of the tea and and a ton of material makes the meaning change in the eyes of the viewer. Like the 100 kilograms of tea symbolized in the work of Joseph Beuys. What does a ton of tea mean to Chinese people? Comparing the idea of tea and a ton of tea will certainly create new associations in their minds.

Ai Weiwei has always sought to find new meaning by transforming traditional Chinese materials and forms. Ai is especially fond of the mahogany materials and the mortise and tenon structure of traditional Chinese furniture. He made a mahogany football model <<Prophecy>> (Divina, major diameter 2.5 meters, minor diameter 70 centimeters, exhibited at the Mori in Japan and the Haus de Kunst in Munich). This art object is finely made of mahogany and is ten times the diameter and several times the weight of a real soccer ball, give the viewer the feeling of falsity and authenticity at the same time: Chinese people are passionate about soccer but Chinese soccer has always disappointed them terribly. Chinese tend of link the sport of soccer with the question of whether or not China is truly a great country. But Ai Weiwei’s “Soccer Ball”because it resembles the fine workmanship of Chinese furniture but is much bigger than life size highlights the big gap between the feelings of strength bound up in soccer and the exquisite feelings produced by the mahogany furniture.

A similar Ai Weiwei product is that famous map of China in mahogany, and a playful imitation of the radical simplicity of the corridor shaped 1999 work of Sol LeWitt. Just as in works of radical simplicity, in these works of Ai Weiwei, the focus is on the materials and the form. Through these playful imitations, he gets people to concentrate on the aesthetic beauty of the Chinese traditional materials and mortise and tenon structure.

Recently, his <<Zodiac Heads>> were exhibited in several major U.S. cities. This is a playful imitation of the water fountain of the 12 zodiacal animals corresponding to the Twelve Terrestrial Branches in the western pavilion Haiyang Hall of the Yuanming Park. Everyone knows the story of how the Yuanming Park, that monument to western architecture, was destroyed and the heads of the animals were lost. They remember also how Chinese companies spent a great deal of money to buy those heads back from the West and how all the experts on cultural relics said that these animal heads were not worth it. However this did make for an ultra-patriotic news story and so the best possible publicity for the companies involved.

Therefore Ai Weiwei enjoyed mimicking and presenting to the public these animal heads, using copper and gold plating to give them a uxorious appearance and to make them over three meters tall, about ten times the height of the original animals. When those twelve golden resplendent animals were stood up in front of people, it gave the impression of making a playful joke, as a uxorious composition, on the “patriotic buying and selling” of these animal heads. Intriguingly, before the story was even even finished, if the Metropolitan Museum of Art were to add this to its collections, then Ai Weiwei would have duplicated these Terrestrial Branch animal heads made according to Chinese aesthetic standards for the foreigners and they would have paid a high price for them. So, which loved China more, the big Chinese companies that paid a high price to buy back the stolen heads or Ai Weiwei who was about to sell his imitation heads to foreigners at a high price? Which one is wiser?

Now what really disturbs some people about Ai Weiwei is his activism. I don’t see Ai Weiwei as being a politician at heart although there are many political elements in his behavior, but that is all a kind of art, be it artistic creations, performance art or event art. Performance art is by nature is a lively expression of freedom. The creation of performance art goes beyond people’s understanding of normal life or even beyond what their sensory perception can endure. This naturally makes this art to some extent separate from an in tension with the values of the state. It can even oppose, betray or stand in opposition to those values. Therefore, we must say in sincerity: politics has its principles, objectives and ways of organizing activities. However, Ai Weiwei’s activities and the events that he plans are not political activities. Rather their purpose is to express the emotions and feelings of an individual. The public nature of Ai Weiwei’s activities and events is what makes his art of this kind creative. To clarify this point, we need to review briefly the development of Chinese performance art.

Chinese performance art has gone through essentially four stages in its development. The first stage was in 1987 – 1989 when cultural criticism was all the rage in China. Performance art in those days often used venues that were culturally symbolic such as the Great Wall and the Ming tombs to express in their own way how cultural constrained individuals. The second stage was in the late 1990s and was characterized by events and pop culture, linked as well to the consumer and commercial culture of the period including pop phenomena like rock, popular music, and paintings, as well as political satire. One example would be artists playing the role of Lei Feng and artists giving miners red kerchiefs as performance art mimicking the behavior of Maoist society.

The third stage was in the middle of the 1990s when some artists gathered in the Maizidian area east of the Great Wall Hotel which everyone called East Village. The artists of East Village were famed for performance art — in their works they placed great stress on body language, often involving self-mortification to convey the troubles they were having.

The fourth stage was symbolized by the performance art and event art of Ai Weiwei. The big difference here was that while performance art was previously confined to the small circle of the art community, now it became more social and public. This performance art now stressed ties to the social context stressed love, feelings of responsibility for society and social criticism, and dialog with the public. Ai Weiwei re-oriented the internal searching of performance art towards Chinese society, towards the public, so that the public will understand and participate in it. Thus performance art became a contemporary art form closely tied to daily life.

Ai Weiwei found his own voice in performance art and event art. He was deeply aware of the transformation of China’s public spaces — the advent of the Internet, and was good at using public media and especially the world of the Internet. This symbolized the creative spirit of his performance and event art — that it had become “The Internet Headline Party”. Every performance or event had to have an easy to remember catch phrase that could travel far — “citizen survey” — the investigation to discover the names of the children who had died in the Wenchuan Sichuan Earthquake. “July 1 Web Strike” — the slogan for the call to boycott the Internet on July 1. “The Old Horse Kicks the Flowers” — using a cellphone to record how one is beaten up by people with a certain purpose etc. Ai Weiwei’s art work expressed just what was drawing his attention in society, expressing his own feelings of love and anger, protest, and reached through widespread communications on the web, reached consensus with with them, and shared feelings of love and anger.

Ai Weiwei speech, art works and especially his behavior over the past several years has certainly not only expressed his own personal voice and vigor but also, through his works, has show to society and the public the attitude of contemporary art towards the human concerns of today.

Why does Ai act this way? Ai Weiwei explained it all in a letter he wrote on January 4, 1978. He wrote “Memories are limitless, they are are like a poisonous snake come to swallow up my young soul. But I did not die from it. Just the opposite, because of this experience I want to live a better life! These twenty years, idiocy, incompetence, ignorance and weakness. Now I understand better. I want to live, I want to be my own master, I want to have a purpose in life, I want to go my own way.”

Ai was just 21 years old when he wrote those words.

This entry was posted in Famous Chinese Political Court Cases 中国政治名案, Literature 文学 and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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