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.


27 days since Ai Weiwei has been disappeared

An NYU law professor weighs in on Ai’s case:

… whatever the evidence being assembled about tax evasion or other charges, that this was not the motivation for Ai’s detention. This case started out on a “detain first and look for justification later” basis. If evidence sufficient to sustain a conviction is found, the case will become a preeminent example of what criminal justice experts call “selective prosecution.” Ai has been singled out from a large number of potentially suspected offenders not because of the magnitude of any alleged economic crimes but because of his creative and eye-catching political challenges to the regime and his defense of human rights.

…however the investigation phase of this case ends, it has already demonstrated once again how far China’s police are not only from adhering to the standards of fair criminal justice enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the government signed in 1998 but has yet to ratify, but also from adhering to their own country’s criminal procedure law. If a famous figure like Ai Weiwei can be so blatantly abused in the glare of publicity, what protections do ordinary Chinese citizens receive from their police?

—Jerome Cohen, “The Ai Weiwei Case: So Far, So Bad.” NYU School of Law’s US Asia Law Institute Blog, April 26, 2011.

In a spineless act of omission, NYC’s Parks and Rec department fails to mention Ai’s nearly month-long disappearance in its press release promoting Full Circle: Ai Weiwei and the Emperor’s Fountain, the forthcoming exhibition of photographs of Ai and his sculptures in Central Park.

The text even touts the nuanced political history informing the sculptures. But by neglecting to mention the enormous price the artist is currently paying for his activism, the Arsenal Gallery appears to be abandoning the artist to fate, even as his physical whereabouts are unknown and his safety is likely endangered. The fear of taking a political position and stirring up controversy is far too common. I would like to think that American civic values translate to being courageous—not cowardly—in the face of injustice.