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Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)
Friday, July 27, 2012
Danquing Chen, Ying Gao, Changwei Gu, Tehching Hsieh, Huang Hung, Yanping Liu, Evan Osnos, Ai Weiwei, Inserk Yang, Zuzhou Zuoxiao
Named by ArtReview as the most powerful artist in the world, Ai Weiwei is China's most celebrated contemporary artist, and its most outspoken domestic critic. In April 2011, when Ai disappeared into police custody for three months, he quickly became China’s most famous missing person, having first risen to international prominence in 2008 after helping design Beijing’s iconic Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium and then publicly denouncing the Games as party propaganda. Since then, Ai Weiwei’s critiques of China’s repressive regime have ranged from playful photographs of his raised middle finger in front of Tiananmen Square to searing memorials of the more than 5,000 schoolchildren who died in shoddy government construction in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Against a backdrop of strict censorship, Ai has become a kind of Internet champion. His frequent witty use of his blog and twitter, he is able to organize, inform, and inspire his followers, becoming an underground hero to millions of Chinese citizens. First-time director Alison Klayman gained unprecedented access to the charismatic artist, as well as his family and others close to him, while working as a journalist in Beijing. In the years she filmed, government authorities shut down Ai’s blog, beat him up, bulldozed his newly built studio, and held him in secret detention; while Time magazine named him a runner-up for 2011’s Person of the Year. This compelling documentary is the inside story of a passionate dissident for the digital age who inspires global audiences and blurs the boundaries of art and politics.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) | Review
An Artists Voice
Ai is not content to speak only through his art. He also strives to bring change to China through his activism. Following the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province that killed over 5000 children who were in substandard school buildings, Ai was very public in calling for transparency. When the government refused to supply a list or a count of the dead, Ai took it upon himself to begin gathering names and publishing them online.
Ai makes use of social media, especially Twitter (@aiww), to, as he says, "throw stones at the government." There is of course concern that the Chinese government will respond with force. Ai could be arrested and jailed for his activities. Will his international reputation and following be enough to keep him safe?
As the film looks at Ai and his work, both artistic and political, we see that there is a great deal in common between the two spheres of his activity. It is not just that his art can carry a political message—something that is true of many artists' work—but that the creativity that drives his art also comes into play in the way he brings about political activism. His protests are not about marching in the streets, but about finding some way that will pique peoples' attention and reflect the failings of the government.
It should be noted that Ai spent twelve years in the U.S. as a student and artist before returning to China in 1993. No doubt the time here gave him an idea of what a free society can be that he might never have known if he had lived only in China. But he approaches the political controversy as a patriot. He sees what he is trying to accomplish through his activism as moving China forward. The response of people to his activism makes it clear that he is not alone in wanting China to be a different place.
We only see Ai's art from time to time during the film, but when we do it can be astonishing, as with his Sunflower Seeds installation at the Tate Modern in London (a room filled with 100,000,000 hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds), or So Sorry, an installation in Munich made of 9000 backpacks of various colors that spelled out in Chinese, "She lived happily on this Earth for seven years" as a memorial to the children killed in the earthquake.
The interaction between his art and his activism and his commitment to bettering his nation should make us consider the role that creativity can have in the ways we interact politically as well. The Tea Party and Occupy Movement have grabbed attention, but have rarely been able to involve the minds of the people they seek to engage for change. Is there a way to be heard without so much noise? Ai Weiwei seems to be able to find such ways.
Copyright © 2012 Hollywood Jesus. All rights reserved.
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