ai weiwei: problem or placation

Kyle Chayka posted on Hyperallergic today:

According to Ai Weiwei’s lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, Ai’s FAKE studio has been accused (and seemingly convicted) of evading over $5 million RMB ($770,000 USD) and is to pay $7 million RMB ($1 million USD) in fines.

…At Artists Speak Out, Philip Bishop quotes Hong Kong artist Kacey Wong with an unconfirmed story of the aftermath of Ai’s release, in which the artist isn’t allowed to speak with one of his consistent collaborators:

Wong said the news on Sunday in Hong Kong was that when Ai Weiwei went to a park in Beijing to talk to Chiao Chiao, one of the video artists Ai works with, Chinese security called and reminded Ai Weiwei that “that wasn’t part of the deal,” said Wong.

…It remains to be seen what consequences and impact Ai’s release will have in the Chinese art world, and if the action is the signal of a relaxation of the government’s recent “Big Chill” or simply another gambit in a balancing act to keep political dissidents silent while the international community remains too placated to openly intervene.


Human Rights Watch: Ai Weiwei Case Reflects Disregard for Rule of Law

Here’s a very good position on Ai Weiwei’s release from Human Rights Watch’s website, posted June 22, 2011, with the subtitle, “Unlawful, Unwarranted Detention, and Onerous Restrictions Loom.” It sums up my sentiments exactly.

The release of the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei on June 22 is a relief for his family, friends and supporters, but leaves troubling unanswered questions about his arrest, detention and conditions of release, Human Rights Watch said today. In particular, Human Rights Watch is concerned about the political nature of his arrest, the conditions under which the police may have extracted a “confession” from him, and possible restrictions on freedoms he faces following his release….

“The Chinese government’s decision to arrest Ai Weiwei was political, and so is his release,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “But it is also an example of how international pressure works, since Beijing was paying a high cost to its reputation for his detention.”

…In the past six months, the Chinese government has disappeared and/or arbitrarily detained dozens of activists, writers, lawyers, and others. Upon their release, several have retreated into uncharacteristic silence and seclusion, leading to concerns that they have been threatened with further abuses if they speak out. At least 10 others who are less well-known than Ai have been victims of enforced disappearances since mid-February. They remain incommunicado, their whereabouts unknown, and thus are at high risk of torture in custody.

“International pressure apparently prodded the Chinese government to conclude that the cost/benefit ratio of continuing to detain Ai Weiwei wasn’t worth it,” Richardson said. “The international community should maintain that same pressure for the release of the many other innocent victims of the Chinese government’s current wave of repression.”

Or as the Daily Beast put it:

Released but not free

Speaking to The Daily Beast/Newsweek by phone, Ai said he has been restricted from traveling outside Beijing or giving substantive interviews to the press for “at least a year.”


Ai Weiwei and the search for justice

From Christopher Bodeen, “Artist Ai Weiwei released by China, says he’s fine,” Associated Press (6/22/2011):

Renowned artist Ai Weiwei, the most high-profile target of a sweeping crackdown on activists in China, returned home late Wednesday after nearly three months in detention. Looking tired and thinner, he said the conditions of his release meant he could not talk more.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Ai confessed to tax evasion, accusations his family had long denied and which activists had denounced as a false premise for detaining him….

“I’m sorry I can’t (talk), I am on probation, please understand,” Ai said, speaking in English….

…Jerome Cohen, a top expert on Chinese law at New York University… said Ai was most likely released on a form of bail that restricts suspects’ movements to their home city for one year. However, authorities can reopen the case at any time, meaning Ai faces the ever-present threat of being detained again on the same accusations….

“It’s quite a step back for the regime. It demonstrates the utility of large amounts of international attention, plus international connections that had been sufficient to keep him out of jail before,” he said.

Ai’s release might also have been a face-saving move, coming just days before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was due to travel to Hungary, Britain and Germany, countries where supporters of the artist have been vocal in their condemnation of his detention.

A relief. But not justice.


Art Practical Issue 40

My review of Under Destruction at the Swiss Institute (NYC) is now online in Art Practical.

Also in the current issue, curator Christian L. Frock summarizes responses to Ai Weiwei’s detainment (including mentions of bilingual Free Ai Weiwei posters and the Love the Future graphic.

Hats off to the Art Practical editorial team, who celebrate the release of their 40th issue today. In two years the publication has grown from a kernel of an idea to a presence in the SF art community, and I am so honored to be part of it.

Art & Development

Free Ai Weiwei / Love the Future graphic available

A few days ago, the NY Times reported that detained dissident artist Ai Weiwei was allowed a brief visit from his wife. For concerned citizens around the world who feared the worst over the past 40+ days in which Ai’s whereabouts and welfare were unknown, the fact that the artist is alive and appeared as though he hadn’t been tortured are reliefs.

Still, Ai and dozens of others have been illegally detained in a wave of repression due to the Chinese government’s fear of a Jasmine Revolution, an Arab Spring-style uprising in China. Chinese authorities are not even following their own legal procedures—Ai has not been formally charged—nor he has not been permitted counsel.

The moral and legal imperatives to pressure the authorities to free Ai Weiwei and all political prisoners remain.

As Aimee LeDuc points out on Bay Citizen, San Francisco’s forthcoming art fairs offer an opportunity for concerned art community members to voice their opposition to repression. Inspired by her call to action and Visible Alternative’s initiatives, I’m making available a graphic for printing, iron-on t-shirts, and any other creative uses. Love the Future is a code phrase for “Ai Weiwei,” a censored phrase on the web in China, as well as an affirmation of progress and political change.

Love the Future

Love the Future

Download a high-res JPG for flyers, or flipped high-res JPGs for iron-ons. (To save the file: Mac users, control+click; PC users, right-click.)

Want to make it bigger? Download a PDF (right-reading or flipped).

Avery makes inkjet iron-on sheets.

For more info please see


41 Days since the PRC disappeared Ai Weiwei

Per, the authorities should have charged or released the detained artist five days ago. Continuing to detain Ai without filing charges is a violation of China’s criminal procedures.

Still, Ai Weiwei: A Conversation, Tate Channel

Still, Ai Weiwei: A Conversation, Tate Channel

Still, Ai Weiwei: A conversation, Tate Channel

Still, Ai Weiwei: A conversation, Tate Channel

The Tate Modern posted a short, moving video with clips from Ai Weiwei’s October 20, 2010 interview at TM, as well as shots of his Sunflower Seeds installation in Turbine Hall. Presciently, an audience member asks Ai, “Why aren’t you in jail?”

Ai’s response:

“I don’t want to stop myself; maybe I will be stopped by some other kind of force. You know, life is like that. I think you have to take chances.”

Ai’s Zodiac Heads public sculptures opened last week in New York, and this week in London. Tom Scocca posted a pointed article in the Washington Post on May 4:

All that’s missing this time around is the artist — a humiliation inflicted by China on itself….

He provoked the system, in a seemingly open-ended piece of performance art, by pretending it was reasonable and accountable that an ordinary citizen had the right to dissent.

Disappointed with the poor coverage of the recent US-China human rights talks, I was glad to read that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ratcheted up the rhetoric on China’s human rights violations in her recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly (May 10, 2011). The discussion focused on the Arab spring and Middle East peace process, but in passing Secretary Clinton said,

we have encouraged consistently, both publicly and privately, reform and recognition and protection of human rights. But we don’t walk away from dealing with China because we think they have a deplorable human rights record….

Goldberg: And (the Chinese) are acting very scared right now, in fact.

Clinton: Well, they are. They’re worried, and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool’s errand. They cannot do it. But they’re going to hold it off as long as possible.

Spoken at the Zodiac Heads ceremony:

Without freedom of speech there is no modern world, just a barbaric one.

(Alexandra Munroe, senior curator of Asian art, Guggenheim Museum, via Roberta Smith on NYT)

Ai’s disappearance is likely part of a crackdown following the Arab spring, which the artist warned Dan Rather about just 10 days before his disappearance. Dozens of thinkers, bloggers, radicals and reformists have been detained. As the PRC refuses to charge or release Ai, it seems more likely that the intention is suppression — to repress a Jasmine Revolution in China. In fact, the Chinese authorities are even taking steps to ban jasmine (see Andrew Jacobs and Jonathan Ansfield’s “Catching Scent of Revolution, China Moves to Snip Jasmine,” New York Times, May 10, 2011), the word and the flower, as if they could suppress inevitable change and progess:

the Chinese characters for jasmine have been intermittently blocked in text messages while videos of President Hu Jintao singing “Mo Li Hua,” a Qing dynasty paean to the flower, have been plucked from the Web…. the police issued an open-ended jasmine ban at a number of retail and wholesale flower markets around Beijing.

For continued coverage, see Eyeteeth, a Minneapolis-based art blog that posts excellent round-ups of news related to Ai Weiwei.


Love the Future

Love the Future/Chinese Cosulate, New York City; Studies in Perspective after Ai Weiwei('s disappearance)

Love the Future/Chinese Cosulate, New York City; Studies in Perspective after Ai Weiwei('s disappearance)

In China, the state tightly controls the internet. Chinese citizens can’t access Google, Facebook, or Twitter. Any searches with Ai Weiwei’s name are terminated, as the artist explained in a prescient interview with Dan Rather shot just 10 days before his unlawful detention and disappearance on April 3.

To skirt censors, Chinese citizens have adopted the code-phrase, Love the Future (愛未來), which is similar to Ai’s name (艾未未) in Chinese.

“Love the Future” has many interpretations. It’s an affirmation, a progressive rallying cry, an admonishment to the repressive Chinese government to fear not its own courageous activists, a call to change.

The above photo is inspired by this declaration, Ai’s courage, and his Studies in Perspective photographs.

Love the Future! Release Ai Weiwei and all unlawfully detained activists immediately.


Release Ai WeiWei: An Overseas Chinese Perspective – New America Media

My op-ed, “Release Ai WeiWei: An Overseas Chinese Perspective” appears on New America Media today.

Photos from the NYC 1001 Chairs demonstration:

1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei at the Chinese Consulate in New York City, April 17, 2011

1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei at the Chinese Consulate in New York City, April 17, 2011

Crafters represent

Crafters represent.

Ann Pasternak

Ann Pasternak, Director of Creative Time, addressing the crowd. I was wondering who'd play the role of police negotiator, and Pasternak did. I love seeing art administrators do on-the-ground community organizing.

Democratic Party of China

My op-ed is about Chinese Americans/Overseas Chinese taking a stand; I was delighted to see a large contingent show up too. They totally side-busted the peaceful, poetic 1,001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei with street protest tactics: bullhorns, chants, raised fits (though suit jackets and matching ball caps is pretty Chinese). It's funny because the stereotype is that Chinese people are quiet, but today it was the Chinese contingent that wanted to be heard.

Accounts from 1001 Chairs in San Francisco:

Glen Helfand, “Empty Chairs,” Open Space (April 17, 2011) (I’m a fellow contributor.)

Christian L. Frock, “1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei,” KQED Arts Blog, (April 18, 2011) (Frock mentions the posters I designed.)


Further Readings:

“The arrest of Ai Weiwei reflects a new escalation in the current and already severe crackdown,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Only sustained international pressure can help Ai Weiwei now.”… Since mid-February, the Chinese government has arrested, detained, disappeared, put under house arrest, summoned for interrogation, or threatened with arrest over two hundred people for dissent or peaceful social activism. Six of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers – Teng Biao, Tang Jitian, Jiang Tianyong, Liu Shihui, Tang Jingling, and Li Tiantian – have been “disappeared” by the police and remain at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment.

Statement from Human Rights Watch

Great context, and this beautiful quote about Ai’s father’s advice to his son:

“This is your country,” his father told him as he was dying. “Don’t be polite.”

—Austin Ramzy, “The Activist Artist of China,”Time Magazine (April 16, 2011)

Why the allegations, however suspect, are irrelevant to the core issue of justice and citizen’s rights:

Without fair legal proceedings, there is no fairness for the legal entity, any results from such circumstances cannot be deemed credible. As Ai Weiwei’s Studio colleges, his family members and volunteers, we all urge the … authorities to … follow the procedures proscribed by law, and to protect the public’s rights.”

—From the open letter from Ai Weiwei’s family and studio members on his and his associates’ detainment/disappearances, in English and Chinese, on Scribd.

Something historically obscene is happening here. It is as if different times exist simultaneously. In one time-stream, democracy is in global demand and artists including Ai Weiwei are revealing the richness of China’s culture to the world. Yet in the sinister second stream it is 1950, and dissidents can be blackguarded and bullied with total impunity by a system that takes Orwell’s 1984 as a handbook.

Jonathan Jones, “Ai Weiwei isn’t on trial: China is,” The Guardian (April 14, 2011)

A beautiful call to action by someone who knows a thing or two about the power of art to provoke strong reactions:

Art can be dangerous. Very often artistic fame has proved dangerous to artists themselves…. We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world’s artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight. …outside the free world, where criticism of power is at best difficult and at worst all but impossible, creative figures like Mr. Ai and his colleagues are often the only ones with the courage to speak truth against the lies of tyrants.

Salman Rushdie, “Dangerous Arts,” New York Times (April 19, 2011).

Love the Future via ArtInfo via CDT

“‘Love the Future’ Becomes Coded Rallying Cry for Ai Weiwei,” ArtInfo (April 16, 2011)

What you can do:

Sign the petitions!
Guggenheim Foundation’s petition on (Bloomberg reports that suffered denial-of-service attacks by Chinese hackers)
Bianca Jagger Foundation for Human Rights

Call the Chinese Embassy (See the Facebook event for contact info for embassies in Stockholm, Athens, Paris, Sofia, the Netherlands, Washington DC, and San Francisco)

Download the Missing poster by Berlin-based Platoon.

In advance of their April 27-28 meeting with China, tell the US State Department to call for the immediate release of Ai Weiwei, his associates and the other dissidents who have been unlawfully detained!