Beijing, China, 2007

May 25, 2010

Interview Ai Weiwei

These are excerpts from an interview with Ai Weiwei held in his studio in Beijing in august 2007.
'Ai Weiwei (Chinese: 艾未未), born in 1957 in Beijing, is one of the leading artists as well as independent curators and architectural designers in China.' (Wikipedia)

We were talking about the Internet, as it is such a powerful medium nowadays.
Ai Weiwei: Internet frees us. Learning and producing at the same time at different locations. You can make it a habit, a style of working and living. You can easily try things out, also to experience to work abroad.

Our line of work, graphic design, takes place on and through computers and the Internet. It feels very virtual, when compared to product design. It only gets physical in the end when it is printed or produced. The process and thinking is in the air.
AW: That's also very powerful! You can have a lot of things down in the virtual condition, and suddenly you have an explosion when it gets materialised. I think there are two kinds of reality. The one we really physically see and a virtual one. For example, I just wonder how much images there are in the computer now, it's completely a different world.

Most of these images and texts on the internet are arranged by the now, you only have direct access to the most current information. Older information gets pushed out of sight by the new after only a short while.
AW: That's very interesting, because technology provides the most ambitious and most impossible conditions. But at the same time there is a lack of time, the oldest concept. It's impossible to beat it. The more you get, the less time you have. This results in the feat that the present becomes so strong. Internet is all about time and space, you can easily get information and spatially it's endless.

But then the Internet is a bad medium for ideas. Compared to the book, which takes a long time to produce but is also distributed slowly
AW: All information on the Internet becomes a one time use. The immediate, what you see is what you judge. You only read one page only half a second.

All the architecture in China seems to be mainly about the image it evokes. Modern, expensive, futurist, status. And then there are all these billboards everywhere showing these soon to be built icons.
AW: The appearance is the most important. There's no place like China. All the apartment buildings are about appearance.

We experienced that there hardly public space or social activity around these new appartment buildings. That's why we really like the villages and the small neighbourhoods. The modern places seem to be really boring compared to the thriving social live in the village.
AW: It will come in ten years.
People here know how to live. Some stupid planning or landlord etc. can not take that away. Eventually it will start to grow. It's only since seven years that everything is happening. After 2000 it has become really crazy, before there were just farmers.

We made this picture of this man sleeping on a bench designed not to be slept on. It's a hopeful image since it questions the power of design, but is it exemplary for a Chinese mentality?
AW: It's a very significant photo actually.
In Western societies all the effort is made to solve the obstacles. That results in too much safety. There is also less intelligence and humor and human interest because of that.

Recently you had quite a few works on show at the Documenta in Kassel. We noticed the collapsed construction of doors, salvaged from soon to be demolished Ming- and Qing-dynasty houses. We heard it collapsed in a storm, but thought we were mistaken when we noticed they were selling postcards showing the artwork in ruins, making it seem like it was supposed to be like this.
AW: It was a coincidence but to me it's a gift for the work. That's why I asked them to make a postcard of the broken artwork.
Where one work is finished, a new one is conceived. Ultimately it's about how an artwork is only a starting point.
I very much love to see the postcard, I haven't seen it yet.

The postcard is now a part of the exhibition and the work.
AW: And it doesn't stop there. We are now doing a study with the Kassel university to make precise drawings with exact measurements of the collapsed installation. With an exact 360 degrees model to reproduce the artwork in other exhibitions. To see how to take it down and build it up again in the same broken way.

All this energy of all these people and all these extreme complex calculations that go into this work of coincidence is itself beautiful.

AW: It makes it much more interesting to me. Because it's so difficult to understand it.

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