AI WEIWEI at the Engadine Technical Talks (CL) 2023
Ai Weiwei is participating in this year’s Engadin Art Talks (He eats) From January 27 to 29, 2023, in Zuoz, Engadin. THEMED HOFFNUNG? Hoofnung! / Hopes? Hope! The weekend-long event will explore the different meanings of hope through the lens of the creative, humanitarian and scientific fields. Part of this year’s panel of international speakers, Chinese artist He leads a diverse and prolific practice driven by his social activism and political beliefs. The installation encompasses sculpture, filmmaking, architecture, photography, ceramics, painting, writing and social media, and his artwork moves between modes of production and research.
As an activist, he was critical of the lack of respect for human rights and freedom of expression in China, which in 2011 led to his arrest and detention for 81 consecutive days on charges of tax evasion. Continuing to speak out on social and political issues he believes are important, Ai Weiwei has emerged as one of the leading cultural figures of his generation in China and abroad. Artists are usually understood as people who do a certain work, Ai Weiwei Designboom tells before speaking on Engadine Technical Talks. This understanding is wrong. Indeed, artists are people who think independently, have independent perceptions, and try to find their own ways of expression to share ideas, almost instinctively. Read our full interview with the artist below.
Portrait of Ai Weiwei © Ai Weiwei Studio
Interview with the artist
designboom (DB): What’s the theme for the 2023 Engadin Art Talks, HOPE? Hope! ‘, related to your practice?
Ai Weiwei (AW): My work is mainly about trying to explain my relationship to myself and the world. Usually this explanation is about who I am and what kind of world I live in. The question of who am I can only be asked through reflections and expressions. If there is any hope in our lives, that hope includes despair, disappointment, all of our aspirations, what we consider right, how we hope to be, and how we make sense of other people’s worlds. Hope will remain hope if it is not recognized and confirmed by reality.
Ai Weiwei, a “gilded cage” in Central Park. Photo © designboom | more here
Deed Brooks: What is the role of the artist in the current socio-political landscape?
AW: Artists are usually understood as people who do a certain type of work. This understanding is wrong. Indeed, artists are people who think independently, have independent perceptions, and try to find their own ways of expression to share ideas, almost instinctively. All the efforts of artists reflect the most important activities of human beings. Any individual thinking about human nature will be the language of the artists.
Deed Brooks: I recently signed a series of blank A4 sheets of paper with invisible UV ink, and gave them away for free in Hyde Park for Human Rights Day. Can you tell us more about this initiative?
AW: Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are among the most important pillars of human rights and humanitarian action. Although the concept of human rights has been established for a long time, not everyone can clearly express their ideas, characteristics, and concrete ways of expression. For me, freedom of expression is the most important part of human rights.
On Human Rights Day, signing my name on sheets of A4 paper with UV ink and handing them out to people who have come to buy one at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park is very symbolic. It symbolizes two things. First, free expression needs a language that is unique to each individual and expressed according to his relationship to the world, and the characteristics of the social and political environment in the world at the present time. Secondly, free expression is a behavior that is gradually shrinking and losing its value system. In our environment today which is generally considered democratic, free and open, free expression is still a very rare behavior.
Dead Project: Art for Tibet, an annual fundraiser that supports the struggle for the basic human rights and freedom of the Tibetan people, included your work, “Hanger,” while you are also part of the honorary committee. How did you get involved with Art for Tibet, and do you have further plans to support their mission in the future?
AW: People who are oppressed by authoritarian regimes, whether they are Tibetans, Uyghurs, or other peoples in other countries and regions, need to shape their voices and expressions. It is the only way to uphold the shared vision: human society cannot be separated from basic fairness and justice. When it is possible for me, I will continue to support groups and people who lack a platform for their voices and expressions.
Ai Weiwei, Hanger, Stainless Steel, 8 5/8″ x 18 7/8″ x 3″, 2012 | photo via Tibetan Art / Bed Square
Deed Brooks: In 2022 you had your first exhibition of glass sculptures in Venice, while the Modern Albertina Gallery in Vienna held your largest retrospective yet. Do you like holding exhibitions? Do you prefer theme-specific offers or larger ones where you can touch on more themes?
AW: The exhibition is just one way of expression. It exists within a cultural framework and in cooperation with institutions as a form of compromise. In fact, there are many other modes of expression, such as the Internet, social media, movies, and writing. Each medium has its own characteristics and its own way of being creative. The exhibition is not the only way of expression for me.
Ai Weiwei, “The Human Comedy” in the Romanian National Museum, photo by Daniele Peruzzi | blackberries here
Deed Brooks: What are you working on at the moment?
AW: I can sum it up as a retrospective of my past life in old age. In the process, I hope to be enlightened in my understanding of life and to go about the rest of my life with more wisdom.
Deed Brooks: Are you optimistic about the future?
AW: I don’t think we have the so-called future. Our future is just an integrated concept that combines the present and yesterday. I’m not very optimistic about that.