Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Artist Ai Weiwei missing for 9 days

Artist Ai Weiwei has been detained by the Chinese government, according to news reports. Nobody knows exactly why he was arrested or how long he'll be held. Back in 2007, when I was living in Boston and spending quite a bit of time attending various lectures and talks at the multitude of universities around Cambridge, I interveiwed Ai. He had been invited to speak at MIT's School of Architecture, and I was immediately taken by his personal and artistic sense of humor. He was very generous with his time, and shockingly candid with his criticism of the Chinese government. I was worried he'd get in trouble. Here is an excerpt.

BLVR: The Chinese government's push to build Beijing up into a world-class metropolis filled with skyscrapers is destroying historic neighborhoods. Are you okay with that?

AWW: First, I don't think it comes from design. Any design, any city, any kind of craziness or tragedy, it all comes from a long time of preparation. Destroy or build. Crazy or non-crazy. I'm not nostalgic about the old city. I don't enjoy it that much. It was just a city with one emperor and the rest of them just rats or meaningless people. Of course, it has its own conditions. The society was so different—it was a feudalistic society. It didn’t come to a point of industrial revolution until 20 years ago. And today, we jump into this globalization of the economy and Internet age. Of course, there has to be chaos. It has to be crazy and I don't think there's anything wrong about it except this government which is really incapable of doing anything meaningful. Otherwise, I think the building can be bigger, larger, and the city can be much more crazy. The problem is the government structure is so deadly stupid, not really solving problems but creating a lot of problems itself every day.

BLVR: How are you so free with your criticism of the Chinese government? Don’t people tend to end up in prison for that? Or are you safe because of your involvement with high-profile projects?

AWW: It’s not like before. It’s very clearly losing power in every aspect, but trying to fix up all the problems or potential problems. The whole attitude of society has become much more open and realistic. They realize that the only way to make a more democratic and free society is to let different opinions come out. The government has improved in the last two or three years. Of course, the structure is still the same; there’s still a one-party system and strong censorship.

The whole interview can be read here. And info on "Never Sorry," a film about Ai directed by Alison Klayman can be found here, as well as the "Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei?" Frontline documentary here.