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February 10 2012

Constructive criticism

Moby sings the praises of strange LA architecture, Ai Weiwei prepares to make a splash at the Serpentine pavilion, and there's a towering new board game in town

Watch your throne Kanye West; there's a new musician-slash-architecture freak in the blogosphere. It's Moby! Having turned his hand to everything from photography, to social activism to vegan tea shop entrepreneurialism, this week, the former rave titan launched his own Los Angeles architecture blog.

"One of the things that fascinates and baffles me about LA is the randomness and accidental beauty and strangeness of the architecture here. Every day I arbitrarily see buildings and houses and odd structures that go from the beautiful to the banal," writes Moby, who's clearly had better luck finding strange architecture than he has locating his "shift" key. Modestly describing himself as a "dilettante architectural photographer", Moby repeatedly admits the pointlessness of his own project – far more than he needs to.

So far, he's unearthed romantic cottages that would look at home in the home counties, a white modernist hillside villa (which calls to mind Eileen Gray's famous e1027 home, 20th-century moorish fantasy castles and photogenic little wooden shacks – each annotated by his unassuming philosophical musings. The "decontextualised randomness" of LA's architecture appeals to him – and it's an education for the rest of us. Let's see how long he can keep it up. Go Moby!

Back down to earth, literally, for the Serpentine Gallery's announcement that their pavilion this year will be designed by Swiss superstars Herzog & de Meuron and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei – which will be mostly underground. This is the first time the Serpentine has commissioned architects who have already built something in the UK: Herzog & de Meuron gave us the Tate Modern, of course, whose turbine hall Ai filled with his Sunflower Seeds in 2010. The first signs of H & deM's delayed Tate Extension will also emerge for the Olympics – new galleries converted from the building's underground oil tanks. Herzog, de Meuron and Ai's collaborations go back to the Bird's Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, so there's a neat symmetry here – not to mention a tacit political point, given the Chinese authorities' recent detention of Ai.

As for the pavilion itself, it involves digging five feet down, beneath the Serpentine's lawn, to groundwater level. "There we dig a waterhole, a kind of well, to collect all of the London rain that falls in the area of the Pavilion," they say. They're calling it an "archaeological approach"; at the moment it sounds more like a muddy puddle.

That wasn't the only moist-sounding Olympic-timed pavilion unveiled this week, though. London 2012's "Official Automotive Partner", BMW, also released impressions of their temporary structure, situated between the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatic Centre. Designed by British practice Serie, it will use river water for cooling, resulting in eye-catching waterfalls down the facade. It's not that new; a similar water system was used by Nicholas Grimshaw for his British Pavilion at Expo 92 in Seville. Still, it "reflects our commitment to sustainable thinking", says the manufacturer of extremely green automobiles (and colossal, gas-guzzling Chelsea tractors). If they put their waterfall next to the Serpentine puddle, they could be on to something.

On firmer ecological ground, London Eye architects Marks Barfield are designing a scientific research centre in the middle of the Amazon jungle that draws on their Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens. Except here, in north-east Brazil, there will be six miles of treetop walkways, plus basic labs and other buildings on the ground, and a spiralling observation tower that rises above the rainforest canopy – the Amazon Eye, perhaps?

The British-based Amazon Charitable Trust are behind it and, needless to say, sustainability is paramount – which means providing jobs for the local river tribe and attracting eco-tourism as well as scientific researchers. Only certain building materials can be brought into the area, too, so the tower will be made out of bamboo grown onsite.

Finally, as it's Valentine's Day on Tuesday, a couple of gift ideas for the design-minded romantic.

Vitra are releasing limited red-and-white editions of two complementary mid-century design classics: the Eames's Hang It All coat rack and George Nelson's Ball Clock. The pair will set you back £378 – but should last longer than a bunch flowers.

Or why not get the design smart-arse in your life The Modern Architecture Game? This architecture-fixated alternative to Trivial Pursuit was devised by Dutch team NEXT in 1999, but they've just updated it and produced it in English for the first time. It's nicely designed, naturally, with counters modelled on iconic buildings ... and a pair of Le Corbusier sunglasses that must be worn when it's your go. Test your knowledge of quotes, images, famous buildings, etc – and alienate your non-architectural friends even further.


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February 07 2012

Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron to make Serpentine pavilion

Chinese artist and Swiss architects who together designed stadium for 2008 Games collaborate on London 2012 project

Four years after designing the spectacular Bird's Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing, the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei are to reunite for a London 2012 project.

The Serpentine Gallery announced on Tuesday that the Beijing team would collaborate once more to design this year's pavilion – the 12th commission in what has become a major annual event on the architecture calendar.

Julia Peyton-Jones, the director of the Serpentine, said it was "tremendously exciting". She added: "What is so fantastic is that it is this extraordinary link of the two games, a Beijing-London axis.

"These are old and dear friends, so for them [Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron and Ai Weiwei] they are picking up where they left off – it is a continuation of a conversation that began in Beijing to great effect and they have conceived something really remarkable for our lawn."

The involvement of Ai will be cheering news for anyone familiar with the tumultuous year he has had.

In 2010 he won global attention for his Tate Modern turbine hall commission in which he filled the space with 100m porcelain sunflower seeds. Things then took a dramatic turn last April when he was arrested and held without charge for nearly three months by the Chinese authorities, a move generally seen as a punishment for his outspoken views and activism. He was held incommunicado and interrogated more than 50 times for, the authorities later said, supposed breaches of tax laws.

In an interview with Guardian last November Ai admitted that the threat of being arrested once more was always there – "Every day I think: 'This will be the day I will be taken in again.'"

Ai has been planning the project with Herzog and de Meuron using Skype and it remains to be seen whether he will be allowed to leave China by the time the pavilion is up in June.

A few details of their plans have been revealed including the indication of it being the lowest pavilion ever, with the roof barely 5ft off the ground. People will be able to go under it because they also plan to dig down a few feet.

In a joint statement they said they would celebrate all the past pavilions as well as their own but it would not look like anything that had gone before. "So many pavilions in so many different shapes and out of so many different materials have been conceived and built that we tried instinctively to sidestep the unavoidable problem of creating an object, a concrete shape."

There will be 12 columns – 11 representing the past pavilions and one for the present – supporting a floating platform roof 5ft from the ground. That roof will collect rain water and reflect the sky as well as being capable of being drained and used for special events "as a dance floor or simply as a platform suspended above the park".

The pavilion, they promise, will become "the perfect place to sit, stand, lie down or just look and be amazed".

It will go up in June as part of the London 2012 festival, a jamboree of events across the UK which will mark the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad.

The pavilion designers follow some impressive names, starting in 2000 with Zaha Hadid and including the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, Olafur Eliasson and Peter Zumthor, who designed it last year.


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January 05 2012

Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama, Inside Out: three life-enhancing projects for 2012

Three pieces of art news have made January brighter already

Since I came back to work on Tuesday, reports of three projects have cheered up the dark days of early January.

The first is regarding Ai Weiwei, undoubtedly the most significant artist of 2011. At the end of November, a huge show called Absent opened in Taiwan. Forever Bicycles, consisting of 1,200 bicycles, is the most recent installation, which writer James Gaddy puts in the tradition of work with bicycle wheels by Duchamp and Picasso. Is it bad that my first thought was of this Katie Melua song?

Sunflower Seeds also opens in New York at the weekend. Sadly, the health and safety issues that made the installation out of bounds at Tate Modern haven't gone away, so New Yorkers won't be able to walk over them. I feel quite privileged that I managed to do this on the opening night, when it was still possible. Here's what it sounded like.

The second project is by Yayoi Kusama, the dot-loving Japanese artist whose Tate Modern retrospective promises to be one of the shows of the year.

Kusama, 82, allowed young children to run amok with multicoloured stickers in a fully furnished white room at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art in Australia …

… with these delightful results.

Finally, Inside Out looks like an interesting participatory project, and not just for raging narcissists. You send them a passport picture, they turn it into a poster and send it back to you, and then you stick it (presumably legally) anywhere you fancy. Judging from their participation map, they haven't got anyone to do it in Tanzania yet – could you be the first?


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December 18 2011

Ai Weiwei and the art of dissent

When the artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei was arrested by the Chinese government in April and held in secret for 81 days, he became an international cause célèbre

Twelve months ago, Ai Weiwei was a celebrated artist, whose Sunflower Seeds had just opened at Tate Modern to widespread acclaim.

Today he is as famous for the 81 days he spent in detention this spring as for his work. In attempting to silence him, the Chinese authorities appear to have amplified his voice.

His sudden disappearance, as he passed through immigration at Beijing airport on 3 April, shocked even the friends who had feared such a moment. His high profile, and his revered late father – the poet Ai Qing – had offered him some protection until then. Human rights groups say his detention showed that no one was immune.

It prompted a global outpouring of outrage that he admits startled even him. "I never imagined it could happen. I think it shows we are in a very different time – through the internet, the media. I had communicated so often with the outside world and made it very clear what was in my mind," he says.

Though he says that he has learned from his experiences, he has also been clear about how damaging the period was. "You know from the first they are not going to be lawful… I felt very sorry for my family, my child, the people associated with me," he says.

He has always insisted that China is his home – he is rare in having lived in America for years as a young man without opting for a US passport – but in his lowest moments he questioned even that decision.

"I asked myself: 'You were so many years in the US and never got citizenship – how stupid could I be?' You think: 'This is dangerous.'

"You just want to get out. They ask you to sign everything... At the beginning, I thought it ridiculous. In the end I said that if I did anything wrong, I would take responsibility."

This year has left him less innocent and more suspicious. But he suggests he emerged with fewer scars than most of the dozens taken in the wider crackdown on activists, lawyers and dissidents this year. Though none are supposed to discuss their experiences, he appears to have been treated considerably better; he thinks his age helped too.

"I'm old enough. I think younger people can be more damaged, more crushed. I have my own beliefs," he adds. "I told them: 'You can change the frame but you can't change the content. You can't make a chestnut into a pear.'"

Chinese authorities say that his detention was nothing to do with human rights, only economic crimes. They have said the company handling Ai's affairs was guilty of tax evasion and argued that he is personally responsible: last month, they handed him a £1.5m fine.

Thousands of well-wishers sent him cash to pay it– money, he says, he accepted as loans, despite his concern about repercussions and despite having other ways to find the money, because he felt it was important to recognise the stirrings of civic instinct.

Then police suggested to his cameraman that pictures of Ai and several women naked might constitute pornography. Supporters promptly tweeted nude pictures of themselves.

There is no sign of the tensions easing: at the end of November, police questioned Ai's wife. Many of the artist's friends fear he may be detained again; perhaps, this time, for years.

"I do worry. All the time. But it doesn't help," he says. He knows that he could lose the thing he values most – his freedom.

"Every day I think about [the lawyers and activist] Gao Zhisheng and Chen Guangcheng and Hu Jia, who have been crushed and beaten. But somebody has to bear responsibility.

"I have a chance to talk to you. Millions of people in their lives can never even clearly state their life and emotions and will die in this darkness."


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November 26 2011

Ai Weiwei: 'Every day I think, this will be the day I get taken in again...'

The more he is harassed by his government, the more Ai Weiwei becomes a symbol of activism in China. But how much longer can he continue to speak out?

The surveillance camera police have trained on the turquoise gate of Ai Weiwei's studio in north Beijing captures a steady stream of visitors; journalists, well-wishers, the art crowd. Five months after his release from an 81-day detention, and in the wake of a fortnight of extraordinary expressions of public support, Ai is anticipating other arrivals. "Every day I think, 'this will be the day I will be taken in again.'

"That's also the impression they [the authorities] try to create, not just to me but to the whole society; to anybody who has different opinions," he adds.

A few years ago the celebrated Chinese artist was a well-established figure in the international and domestic art worlds; provocative, certainly, but respectable enough to co-design the Olympic Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing and be covered by Chinese state media. Then his outspoken views and activism triggered clashes with authority, culminating in this year's detention – part of a broader crackdown on activists, lawyers and dissidents that saw dozens held and more harassed, threatened or placed under other restrictions. He has become, to many, the face of human rights in China: more a symbol than a person.

"The fact the government disappeared him, and then afterwards continued to go after him through various charges, sends a signal to other activists that even if you are well known it does not really protect you," says Wang Songlian of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders Network. "On the other hand, the way he turned it around was very clever, and I think activists have been energised."

"It's never about me," says Ai, now 54. "[My supporters] use me as a mark for themselves to recognise their own form of life: I become their medium. I am always very clear about that."

Ai emerged from his ordeal in June, far slimmer – having lost almost 10kg, some of which he has regained – and apparently chastened.

"My energy was very low after these 81 days and I really needed the time to recover, mentally and physically. I was quite fragile," he acknowledges. "I tried to do much less, because I also think this is not a game I can play. If they can make you disappear, why do you still play this game? Ridiculous.

"But even if you don't speak, they still put these false accusations on you … So then you feel, if you don't speak, you are part of this crime. I guess both sides are very disappointed." He laughs.

There are fewer flashes of the puckish humour these days and he is more cautious in his pronouncements, but he is nonetheless saying more than the government would like, and recent actions by his supporters speak still louder. When authorities handed him a £1.5m tax bill, thousands helped him pay the first tranche, some flinging money over the studio walls. When police mooted the possibility that he was guilty of pornography – in relation to photos picturing him and four women, all naked – they tweeted nude pictures of themselves.

"We are trying to work with a very limited space. To people who do not understand the conditions, it may look ridiculous. But to us, that's the only space," he says.

"Normally people feel powerless. That's how society becomes a society, if they think they have a little power and support and help to solve the problem."

The downside is not only the risk of authorities using the donations against him – by deeming it illegal fundraising – but the ever-increasing expectations of his supporters. He was "thrilled" to learn how much support he had received during his detention, but the pressure from both sides has become hard to bear.

"One side has so much hope they put on my shoulders. I cannot really help them. I can't even help me; my condition [situation] is quite bad," he observes.

As he talks, a black spaniel is snuffling around the table; it's not hard to see why Ai has such a fondness for his numerous pets. "I think they are in a parallel world … They don't really care. I was in, I was out; they are always here."

The passion and fury Ai inspires make it easy to overstate his influence. He is well known to art lovers in China, but a very long way from being a household name. He has galvanised people who would not normally make political statements; but they are a tiny proportion of even the educated elite, never mind the rest of the country's 1.3bn population.

His bleak view of China has also been questioned. It is true that people are far freer to criticise authority than 30 or even 10 years ago; that their personal freedoms are vastly expanded and that many are broadly satisfied with the tacit deal – growing economic prosperity in exchange for political limits.

But others share his concern about the Communist party's rigid grip on power as it strives to reassert control over mainstream and social media, and to roll back some of the space that an embryonic civil society has carved out. Last week prominent Chinese legal scholar Jiang Ping warned that the country increasingly resembled a dictatorship.

The Chinese government insists Ai's case is unrelated to human rights and that he was held for tax evasion; critics say the western media have lionised him when they should be assessing his financial records. But it is impossible to do so; police confiscated the documents of the company that handled his affairs. Ai deems the tax bill "political revenge or punishment" and says it has no factual basis.

"It is legitimate to ask whether Ai Weiwei or, more accurately, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, owes taxes," Joshua Rosenzweig, a Hong Kong-based independent human rights researcher, wrote recently.

"It is also legitimate to raise questions about political motivations behind the prosecution, because of the particular way in which the police intervened in this case prior to any investigation by tax authorities, the fact that Ai's disappearance was carried out in the context of dozens of other detentions … unambiguously political in nature, and the way the propaganda machinery has been mobilised to smear his reputation."

Ai was reportedly interrogated more than 50 times during his detention, but about his views and activism rather than his financial dealings. He does not go into detail about what happened but points out that many of the others detained this spring were treated far worse. According to the accounts that have trickled out some were beaten; many were deprived of sleep, forced to sit in stress positions and threatened. Several still show clear symptoms of trauma, say friends.

"I think I recovered the most. About 100 people were taken in. Only a few have spoken out. Most of them [seem] to be silenced for ever – some you can see are completely crushed," Ai says.

"It's hard to recover. You become not so innocent. You become, in a way, more sophisticated, which I think you shouldn't. We should all have more simple happiness ... You become bitter."

And yet, he adds: "Maybe there is something I got from it. Maybe you also start to be clear on certain things."

The parallels with his father's case are inescapable. Ai Qing was a revered poet, which in part explains the relative protection his son has enjoyed, but endured years of persecution after being condemned as a rightist. "His whole heart loved art and literature. But he was crushed; he almost committed suicide several times," says Ai, who grew up in a labour camp.

"My voice is not for me. Every time I make a sentence I think how many people for how many generations had a voice that no one could hear. At most they will be remembered as numbers; in many cases, even numbers don't exist.

"I think I have this responsibility for my father's generation, and especially future generations."

Still, he insists, "I am not a dissident" – simply someone put on the spot by the government's actions.

Amid the political storm, it is easy to lose sight of Ai's artistic record. His work is on show in London, Berlin and Taipei; next year will see exhibitions in Sweden, France and the Netherlands. More remarkably, a gallery in Beijing is exhibiting some of his past work – including the list of names of children who died in the Sichuan earthquake. His attempts to tally the deaths of those who had died in shoddily constructed schools put him on a collision course with authorities.

Friends say he views the outside world critically, too; his 2007 work, Fairytale, in which he transported 1,001 compatriots to Germany, was not only about exposing participants to another way of life, but about challenging European perceptions of the Chinese.

His studio is busy again, but "I don't really care that much about if I want to be more successful or less successful in art, because I never think life and art should be separate," Ai says. "What's life if you don't have conversation and joy and anger?"

Activism is the inevitable result of his art, rather than a distraction from it: "If I was a scientist maybe [restrictions on expression] wouldn't bother me – but as an artist, finding a way to communicate with people is the core activity."

In an authoritarian society, he adds, that can only lead to conflict. Many wonder if Ai will tire of the unending tussle and move abroad. His conditions of release prevent him from leaving Beijing for a year, but the government would probably be happy to see him go; critics usually slip from public view once they emigrate.

He says he has to respect the opinions of his family, but thinks it important "to try to stay here as long as possible".

In any case, China has, he says, "braver, more brilliant" young people than him, with a fresh set of ideas.

"That's also quite encouraging. It's about life, actually. It's a story about life," he says. Not about him.

Five other figures of dissent in China

Chen Guangcheng

The blind lawyer was jailed for damaging property and obstructing traffic after helping women who had suffered forced abortions. He has been under house arrest since his release last year; scores of activists have shown their support by attempting to visit his village in Shandong, despite being beaten and harassed by thugs there.

Liu Xiaobo

Beijing was furious when the Nobel committee awarded the jailed author the peace prize last year. He is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion of state power, having co-authored Charter 08, a call for democratic reform in China. Officials say he is a criminal, not a dissident.

Liu Xia

The poet had little interest in politics, but spoke out about her husband Liu Xiaobo's case and vanished after he won the Nobel prize. She is thought to be under house arrest; in February she made brief online contact with a friend, saying she was a hostage and no one could help her.

Gao Zhisheng

Once feted by authorities, the lawyer angered them by taking on sensitive cases such as those relating to the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. He vanished in 2009 and alleged – during a brief and bizarre reappearance last year – that police had subjected him to sustained torture.

Ni Yulan

Clashes with officials over housing rights left the lawyer disabled and homeless. She was among the many detained this spring; while most have been released, Ni and her husband are awaiting trial for "creating a disturbance". Human rights groups say they are increasingly concerned about her health.


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November 21 2011

Ai Weiwei supporters strip off as artist faces 'porn' investigation

Nude photographs posted in riposte to Chinese police interrogation of videographer for picture of Ai and women naked

When artist Ai Weiwei disappeared, supporters made online appeals for his return. When authorities handed him a £1.5m tax bill, they sent money to help pay it. And now that he faces an investigation for spreading pornography – his admirers have stripped off.

Internet users began tweeting their nude photographs after Ai announced that authorities had questioned his cameraman over pictures which showed the artist and four women naked.

Many Chinese contemporary artists have taken pictures of themselves without clothes, and the pictures of Ai that have emerged so far do not appear sexually charged. Some suspect that it may be an attempt by the authorities to smear the artist, whose 81-day detention this spring caused international outrage.

Officials accused him of economic crimes but supporters say the authorities are engaged in a vendetta because of Ai's social and political activism and criticism of the government.

While a couple of internet users tweeted full-frontal shots, others have come up with more decorous – and ingenious – variations on the theme. Some posted pictures of themselves as babies; one photo shows a row of nine unclothed women and one man – with images of Ai's head superimposed over their genitals and nipples.

Li Tiantian, a Shanghai lawyer who was herself detained earlier this year, appears partially concealed by a picture of a "grass mud horse", a creature invented by internet users to mock censors; its name is a homonym for a graphic curse.

"It is an expression of support for Ai Weiwei and scorn to the Chinese government. It shows our attitude and anger towards the government's behaviour," she said.

"We are simply using an eyecatching way to attract people's attention. There are so many pornography websites in China: they don't regulate them, yet say that this is spreading pornography."

Wen Yunchao, a blogger in Hong Kong who posted two nude photographs of himself, told Reuters: "This is a matter that has made many people very indignant. The interpretation of people's naked bodies in itself is an individual freedom and a form of creative freedom. Also, we don't see any pornographic elements in [Ai's] photographs. So we are using this extreme method to express our protest."

Zhao Zhao, the videographer who took the original pictures of Ai last year, told Reuters that Beijing police interrogated him about them for about four hours, telling him the photographs were obscene.

Ai told the news agency that police had also questioned him about the pictures. He said they did not have a hidden political meaning and were not meant to criticise the government, but noted that authorities might nonetheless see them as a "rebellious act".

Separately, the artist has encouraged supporters to call bloggers and commentators he described as leaders of the "50 cent" – pro-government – internet users, tweeting their phone numbers.

One of them, Wang Wen, told the Guardian he had received between 100 and 200 calls and innumerable messages since Sunday and that another man had received about 1,000 calls. He complained that posting the number was not fair, but refused to comment further.


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November 18 2011

Ai Weiwei investigated over nude art

Chinese artist says he is under investigation for spreading pornography, after pictures including One Tiger Eight Breasts

Ai Weiwei is under investigation for spreading pornography, the Chinese artist has said, as the authorities turned their attention from political subversion and tax evasion to online images of nudity.

He said police had questioned his cameraman Zhao Zhao on Thursday over pictures Zhao had taken of the artist. "They clearly told him this is an investigation, now, they are doing on me, on pornography," Ai told the AFP news agency.

One of the pictures, One Tiger Eight Breasts, shows Ai posing nude on a wooden chair flanked by four naked women who are giggling and smiling.

"Netizens came to take photos with me, so we said why don't we take nudity photos, then everybody agreed so we did it and they were put on the internet, and that's it, we forget about it," Ai said.

This year Ai has been held for 81 days in a secret location, questioned about subversion and then accused of tax evasion and given a fine of 15m yuan. Several of his assistants have been detained for lengthy periods and interrogated about Ai's political beliefs, business and personal life.

His lawyers say the investigations are politically motivated to silence Ai, who has used his high profile to speak out on police brutality, official corruption and human rights violations.

Police have been reluctant to discuss his case and there has been little or no coverage in most domestic media outlets. But the Communist party newspaper Global Times said on Wednesday that dissidents such as Ai could only exist because of the support of the west.

"For 30 years Ai Weiweis have emerged and fallen. But China has kept rising despite their pessimistic predictions. The real social trend is that they will be eliminated in the rising process of China," said a comment article in the paper.

Ai has attempted to turn the tables by mounting an internet campaign against his accusers. He says 30,000 people contributed a total of more than 8m yuan to his online appeal for loans to challenge his tax fine.

A pornography or obscenity charge based on the pictures revealed so far is likely to incur ridicule and anger among Ai's supporters. Many Chinese contemporary artists have appeared naked in their work.

Ai said police had previously questioned him about the images, but he doubted they understood art. "If they see nudity as pornography, then China is still in the Qing dynasty," he told Associated Press.


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November 15 2011

Tacita Dean's artwork malfunction

Is the breakdown of Tacita Dean's Turbine Hall piece anything to worry about? Absolutely not. Glitches and good art have always gone hand in hand

Art is not reliable. Why should it be? Reliability is for trains to run on time, clocks to go like clockwork, and banks to be, er, trustworthy. Art and artists offer an escape from all that into the world of imagination and possibility – or impossibility. Art deserves as much slack as it wants.

News that Tacita Dean's Film, an 11-minute silent work projected onto a white monolith in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, broke down at the weekend is therefore no big surprise – and no big deal. While there may have been some disappointed gallery-goers, the public has long got used to, and loves, the unpredictable nature of art: in the end, few people protested when access to Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds, the previous Turbine Hall spectacle, had to be restricted because of health fears over ceramic dust. Most visitors found the seeds moving from afar, and the political and poetic resonances of the work increased throughout its run, regardless of technical hitches, because of the tribulations of its creator Ai Weiwei.

Dean's Film was up and running again by Sunday lunchtime. But it's worth bearing in mind that failure is not necessarily failure in art. The most spectacular case of art going (harmlessly) wrong that I can remember was an installation in the old Tate Gallery. In 1999, American artist Chris Burden, famous for his performance art that included having himself shot in the arm, unveiled an installation in the form of an automated assembly line.

When Robots Rule was supposed to mass-produce balsa-wood toy planes, but it never produced anything. It didn't work and could not be fixed. For months. Burden can make steamrollers fly in the air, as a 2006 project showed. But the Tate machine was a disaster and no one seemed to mind. It became a thought-provoking example of a non-functioning artwork.

Our tolerance for artistic error has gone up as art itself has become more popular. James Turrell's skyspaces may or may not deliver the thrill they promise: for a long, long time, he has been turning a crater in Arizona into a mind-boggling artwork, but it is still unfinished. Will it ever be ready for the public? And does this make the artist any less visionary?

All these contemporary adventures have a great tradition behind them. The National Gallery's current Leonardo da Vinci show includes all the surviving paintings he is known to have finished in Milan. But what about his unfinished (and in his day impossible) projects for flying machines? Da Vinci failed more often than anyone – and he was the greatest of all. There's no shame in trial and error when the imagination soars.


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November 09 2011

Ai Weiwei's mother accuses officials of hounding her son

Mother of Chinese artist and activist tells Guardian the actions of officials were 'creepy, crooked, evil'

The mother of Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has accused officials of hounding her son, describing their approach as "creepy, crooked, evil".

Gao Ying said she was speaking up because she feared Ai – who was detained for almost three months this spring – would lose his freedom again. He faces a £1.5m tax bill, which well-wishers have pledged to help him pay.

"My heart is hurt … How come they don't act according to the law?" she asked.

"As a mother, I love this country, I love the people and I want this country to have a good image globally. But these events are too shameful. How come so many things of this kind happen to him? Isn't this hounding him?"

She said officials did not want her to talk to the media, but told the Guardian: "I don't care … I have to stand up to speak, otherwise I am not qualified to be a mother.

"This is what I want. I am having my voice heard and want them to hear what I believe."

Ai's family believe the 15m yuan bill – and his earlier detention – are retaliation for his outspokenness and activism, but state media have accused him of evading tax.

In a separate interview with the Human Rights in China group, Gao complained the tax bill was "astronomical", adding: "The deadline for payment is so tight that not even robbing banks could help."

She said her son had merely stood up to defend the rights of ordinary people, asking: "Is it fair to casually turn a person into an enemy, and an object of hatred? I have these words for the authorities: [it is a] creepy, crooked, evil way."

The 80-year-old added that Ai had to inform officials every time he visited her and that he had been tailed by a state security officer throughout her birthday celebrations.

The family once enjoyed much better relations with authorities. Gao's husband, Ai Qing, was one of China's most revered poets; when he died, Hu Jintao – now Chinese president, and then a member of the Politburo – visited their home to pay respects on behalf of the leadership.

Gao said she had replaced a photograph capturing that meeting with a family snapshot, because looking at it had made her uncomfortable during her son's detention.

Thousands of supporters have sent Ai money to pay the first part of the tax demand, allowing him to challenge the charge. He has said he is accepting loans, rather than donations, and will repay his well-wishers.


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November 08 2011

Ai Weiwei supporters send money for tax bill – in pictures

Thousands of people have sent a total of more than 5.3m yuan (about £500,000) to the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to help him pay a 15m yuan tax bill imposed by the government after he was released from 81 days' detention. Some have thrown notes over his gate in the form of paper aeroplanes or wrapped around fruit



November 07 2011

Chinese state press questions donations to Ai Weiwei

Global Times suggests artist and activist is conducting illegal fundraising as supporters send money to help with tax fight

A Chinese state newspaper has raised the spectre of further action against the artist and activist Ai Weiwei, alleging he could be carrying out "illegal fundraising" after thousands of supporters sent him money to pay a £1.5m tax bill.

Ai said he believed the money from well-wishers – arriving electronically, by post and even flown into his studio in the form of bills folded into paper aeroplanes – would total around 5m yuan (£490,000) by the end of Monday.

He needs to make an initial payment of 8m yuan to challenge the charges, which he says are unjustified.

The 54-year-old was held for almost three months this year, sparking an international outcry.

His family and supporters believe the detention was retaliation for his social and political activism, but state media alleged he had avoided tax and last week he was warned he would have to pay 15m yuan.

The English edition of the state-run Global Times newspaper said: "Some experts have pointed out this could be an example of illegal fundraising. Since he's borrowing from the public it at least looks like illegal fundraising.

"It is absolutely normal for a certain number of people to show their support for him with donations. But these people are an extremely small number when compared with China's total population. Ai's political preference along with his supporters' cannot stand for the mainstream public, which is opposed to radical and confrontational political stances."

Ai had already said he was accepting loans rather than donations and would repay his supporters.

"It's a beautiful thing," he told the Guardian, saying students had even offered to sell their books so they could send him cash.

"We don't need the money, but we need attention for the public to understand what is going on.

"They really want to express an opinion … so we will temporarily hold their money for them and then return it."

A picture tweeted by one of the artist's friends on Monday showed a thick stack of paper, said to be postal remittances.

"We have even had people throwing [money] over the door," Ai said.

Asked if he was worried it might prompt further action from officials, he added: "I am not worried at all … They can do anything to you and change the law to make [it] lawful. This is the way they do things. I have no illusions."

The tax charges relate to Fake Design, the company that handled Ai's affairs but was registered by his wife. He said authorities had argued he was liable as the "actual controlling person" of the firm.

It is not clear how the artist will be able to challenge the tax bill because police confiscated all the company's documents shortly after detaining him and have not allowed anyone to see them.


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November 01 2011

Ai Weiwei ordered to pay £1.5m in tax

Chinese artist held in detention for close to three months says he has been ordered to pay tax bill but will challenge the demand

Ai Weiwei, the internationally renowned Chinese artist detained by authorities for almost three months this spring, has said officials have ordered him to pay £1.5m in tax.

Beijing police released him in June, citing his ill health, good attitude in confessing his crimes, and willingness to repay back taxes he had evaded.

But the 54-year-old told the Guardian he did not owe the money and would challenge the demand, adding: "It's a game they play all the time … They needed an excuse to take me away for 81 days."

Ai's family and supporters always believed his detention was in retaliation for his social and political activism. During his interrogations Ai was questioned about issues such as subversion of state power rather than his accounts.

Ai said the authorities told him the tax was owed by Fake, the company that handled his affairs but that was legally registered by his wife.

"I am a designer for the company; I am not the legal representative, nor the manager. I never signed papers or made a deal or transferred money - I was nothing to do with the accounting. They said I was the 'actual controlling person' of the company," he added.

But he is unsure how he can challenge the payment notice because police seized all the company's documents a few days after detaining him and have not returned them, nor allowed anyone to inspect them.

He said authorities had originally told him he would have to pay 20m yuan, but later told him they had reduced it to 15m yuan, "because they had considered my ability to pay".

They told him not to discuss it in case the figure changed, but have given him written notice that he must pay the 15m yuan and have said they will explain to him how they arrived at the sum.

Ai said public security officials told him on Monday he should not argue about the bill because the government would not change its mind and asked whether he had the money ready.

He said that his mother had told him they should auction his late father's house to pay the bill if necessary. Ai Qing is one of China's best-known poets.

Pu Zhiqiang, Ai's lawyer, said they were seeking to challenge the demand.

Chinese police claimed during Ai's detention that Fake had evaded "a huge amount" of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents, according to state news agency Xinhua.

They also detained the company's accountant, Hu Mingfen, for two months. Colleagues described her as meticulous, with one telling the Guardian: "She is very prudent. Lu Qing [Ai's wife] used to say: 'Even if it's just one cent missing, Hu has to count it to be clear.'"

Shortly after Ai's release in June, a friend said the artist had been told he owed around £12m comprising unpaid taxes and a 7m yuan fine.

Earlier this month, Art Review named Ai the most powerful figure in the global art world in its annual "Power 100" list. His works include the Sunflower Seeds exhibit at Tate Modern.

Calls to the Beijing tax bureau went unanswered.


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September 06 2011

Korea's explosive designs

With plastic surgery for fighters and designs for bombs, the Gwangju Design Biennale – curated by Ai Weiwei – is challenging the norms of commercially motivated design weeks

September is "design week" season, when cities from London to Brussels to Beijing flaunt their design talent, if they have it, or fly it in if they don't. Either way, the idea that design is crucial to a lively urban economy has become so prevalent in the last decade that there are now more than 60 design weeks around the globe – some of them in cities you may never have heard of. This weekend I was in Gwangju, the sixth biggest city in Korea. The Gwangju Design Biennale may sound obscure, but it is rumoured to have a bigger budget than the Venice Art Biennale, which tells you how seriously the Koreans take their design.

Without the biennial – and its sister art event, which runs in alternate years – Gwangju might be just another middle-sized far eastern city with cheap towers draped in neon signage. Worse than that, it is best known for the massacre of hundreds of students during pro-democracy protests in 1980. The biennials – the art edition has been running since 1995 – have been crucial in forging a new identity for this city. And to Gwangju's credit, a design biennial provides something that very few "design weeks" (including London's) ever do, which is an ambitious programme of independent, thought-provoking curating, rather than a slew of new products pushing a primarily commercial agenda.

This year's theme – "design is design is not design" – might sound like an existential tongue-twister, but it reflects the kind of dualism that is more common of Taoist thought than European. Chief curators Ai Weiwei and Seung H-Sang derived it from Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching. The dissident Ai couldn't make it to the opening as he is not being allowed out of China, but his willingness to challenge assumptions runs right through the exhibition.

One exhibit is a pamphlet handed out in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian uprising that advised protesters on the most effective tactics for civil disobedience, including how to improvise a helmet and how to breach police lines. Then there are designs for IEDs (improvised explosive devices) of the kind that kill troops daily in Afghanistan. There's also a video of the plastic surgery that Ultimate Fighting Championship competitors can undergo in order to bleed less from the nose or above the eyes. (Korea, it should be pointed out, is one of the global hotspots of plastic surgery).

Is all of this design? It would be difficult to argue the case against: collective behaviour, bombs and extreme bodies all require designing. This tests the bland "designing a better world" rhetoric implicit in so much production. The most brazenly provocative exhibit illustrates different forms of public execution, from lethal injection to stoning, as blueprints – methods that someone had to devise in meticulous detail.

All of the above belong to a section of the biennial on anonymous, or "un-named", design. Curated by Brendan McGetrick, it is intended as the antidote to the market's fixation with recognised designers and their value-added authorship. There is also a section on design by communities, curated by Beatrice Galilee, which includes the WikiHouse, an open-source house design kit. Everyone is free to contribute or modify a design (as long as they like plywood), which they can then print out and take to any computerised cutting service – hey presto, a flatpack house. Such open platforms, using the creative commons, are one of the major forces that will change our conception of design in the near future.

The definition of "design" is much more expansive, more fluid, than it used to be when it was still primarily a process that resulted in products. One of the most gratifying aspects of this biennial is how few objects there are – not a chair in sight. If this were a standard "design week", you might expect the Korean hosts to use it as a showcase for new electronics by Samsung and LG, or cars by Hyundai and Daewoo. How else could one approach such a display except as a consumer in critic's clothing, painfully aware of one's complicity in cheap labour? One of the displays here reveals that of the $600 that an iPhone 4 sells for, only six dollars is spent on the (Chinese) labour that manufactured it, whereas Apple's profit is $360. You wouldn't get that piece of information in a design trade fair.

In contrast to the anonymous, questioning tone of the biennial, the directors have taken the precaution of parachuting in a troop of prestigious architects to build follies around the city. There are 10 of these by the likes of Peter Eisenman, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Dominique Perrault. The better ones, such as Atelier Bow-Wow's pergola with a six-storey periscope, bring some delight to the sidewalk, whereas the worst, such as Eisenman's steel gate, merely get in the way. The cynical would view these as urban branding, a pinch of architectural stardust sprinkled on the property market. But they also demonstrate a city's willingness to invest in moments of urban whimsy and character.

At least they're not corporate branding events, like our own latest folly, the ArcellorMittal Orbit. But then it's almost impossible to imagine this biennial happening in Britain. In Gwangju, the biennial is almost entirely paid for with municipal money, which means no corporate sponsors pushing their marketing agendas, and none of the commercial tie-ins that can compromise exhibitions during design weeks.

The biennial (a format borrowed from the art world) is a rare space in design since it allows for questioning what the discipline is and what social purposes it serves – crucial at a moment when design is moving beyond its traditionally commercial concerns. And Korea is an interesting context in which to see those questions asked – a wealthy country with considerable industrial prestige hosting an event so discursive and open-ended, with no commercial imperatives being pushed. It's smart. Perhaps it's no coincidence that some of the most talented students at the Royal College of Art in the last couple of years have been Korean.


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August 29 2011

Ai Weiwei attacks injustices in China in magazine article

World-famous artist accuses officials of denying people their basic rights and describes Beijing as a 'city of violence'

Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist held by the authorities for almost three months earlier this year, has attacked injustice in China in a passionate article fuelled by his own experiences of detention.

He accused officials of "deny[ing] us basic rights" and compared migrant workers to slaves, describing Beijing as "a city of violence" and "a constant nightmare".

But one of the most powerful passages describes how people "become like mad" as they are held in isolation and how detainees "truly believe [captors] can do anything to you".

His remarks, in an article about Beijing published on the website of Newsweek magazine, are certain to anger Chinese security officials. They come days after it emerged that China is reportedly planning to give police legal powers to hold some suspects for up to six months without telling their families. Campaigners say the move would legitimise and potentially increase the number of secret detentions.

Ai's own 81-day detention caused an international outcry. It was the most high-profile case in a sweeping crackdown that saw dozens of activists, dissidents and lawyers held earlier this year.

State media said he was held for economic crimes and released in June "because of his good attitude in confessing" and a chronic illness. His family and supporters believe he was targeted due to his social and political activism.

The 54-year-old artist is not able to give interviews but confirmed that he had written the article. He described it simply as "a piece about the place I live in".

Ai's bail conditions reportedly prevent him from discussing what happened to him in detention, although a source gave Reuters a detailed account of events, which included more than 50 interrogations.

The restrictions are also said to ban him from using social media – although he sent a brief flurry of angry tweets recently about friends who had been enmeshed in his case – but not from writing.

"The worst thing about Beijing is that you can never trust the judicial system," he wrote in the Newsweek article. "It's like a sandstorm … everything is constantly changing, according to somebody else's will, somebody else's power."

He went on: "My ordeal made me understand that on this fabric, there are many hidden spots where they put people without identity … only your family is crying out that you're missing. But you can't get answers from the street communities or officials, or even at the highest levels, the court or the police or the head of the nation. My wife has been writing these kinds of petitions every day [while he was held], making phone calls to the police station every day. Where is my husband?

"You're in total isolation. And you don't know how long you're going to be there, but you truly believe they can do anything to you. There's no way to even question it. You're not protected by anything. Why am I here? Your mind is very uncertain of time. You become like mad. It's very hard for anyone. Even for people who have strong beliefs."

The artist described the capital as two cities. The first was one of power and money, peopled by officials, coal bosses and the heads of big companies who help to keep "the restaurants and karaoke bars and saunas … very rich". The second was a place of desperation, he wrote, calling migrant workers the city's slaves.

Ai, who helped to design the "bird's nest" national stadium for the Olympics – but publicly turned on the games before they began – said none of his art represented the capital.

He added: "The Olympics did not bring joy to the people."

He also warned: "Beijing tells foreigners that they can understand the city, that we have the same sort of buildings …

"Officials who wear a suit and tie like you say we are the same and we can do business. But they deny us basic rights."

Ai described people giving him quiet support when he went out last week, for example patting him on the shoulder, but only in "a secretive way" because they were not willing to speak out.

He said people told him to "either leave, or be patient and watch how they die. I really don't know what I'm going to do."


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Ai Weiwei attacks China over justice and human rights

Recently freed artist breaks his silence after his release, attacking Beijing in Newsweek article

The dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has launched a scathing attack on the Chinese government after his release from secretive detention in late June, accusing officials of denying citizens their basic rights.

In a strongly worded commentary published late on Sunday on the website of Newsweek magazine, Ai – whose detention prompted an international outcry – branded the capital, Beijing, as "a city of violence".

He criticised the government for rampant corruption, the judicial system and its policy on migrant workers, all issues that have inflamed social tensions in China.

Ai's commentary signals his growing impatience with the strict terms of his release from 81 days in captivity in late June. It also presents Beijing with a direct challenge on how to handle the country's most famous social critic.

"Every year millions come to Beijing to build its bridges, roads, and houses … They are Beijing's slaves," Ai wrote. "They squat in illegal structures, which Beijing destroys as it keeps expanding. Who owns houses? Those who belong to the government, the coal bosses, the heads of big enterprises. They come to Beijing to give gifts – and the restaurants and karaoke parlours and saunas are very rich as a result."

Under the conditions of Ai's release, he is not allowed to be interviewed by journalists, meet foreigners, use the internet or interact with human rights advocates for a year, a source familiar with Ai's detention told Reuters.

Despite this, the artist has spoken out on his Twitter account on behalf of detained dissidents and his associates who were also held during his incarceration. They have since been released.

"Beijing tells foreigners that they can understand the city … Officials who wear a suit and tie like you say we are the same and we can do business," he wrote in Newsweek. "But they deny us basic rights."

When contacted by Reuters on Monday, Ai confirmed he had written the commentary, saying it was one based on his impressions of living in Beijing, adding that he did not know what the consequences, if any, would be.

He declined to elaborate, saying he was still restricted from speaking to journalists under the terms of his release.

The 54-year-old endured intense psychological pressure during his detention and still faces the threat of prison for alleged subversion, according to the source.

In the commentary, Ai alluded to his time in detention, saying "the worst thing about Beijing is that you can never trust the judicial system".

"My ordeal made me understand that on this fabric, there are many hidden spots where they put people without identity," Ai wrote. "Only your family is crying out that you're missing. But you can't get answers from the street communities or officials, or even at the highest levels, the court or the police or the head of the nation.

"My wife has been writing these kinds of petitions every day [while he was in custody], making phone calls to the police station every day. Where is my husband? Just tell me where my husband is. There is no paper, no information."

Ai's detention provoked an outcry from many western governments about China's tightening grip on dissent that started in February, when dozens of human rights activists and dissidents were detained and arrested.

The artist, famed for his work on the "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium in Beijing, was the most internationally well-known of those detained, and his family has repeatedly said he was targeted for his outspoken criticism of censorship and Communist party controls.

When Ai was released on bail, Beijing said he remained under investigation for suspicion of economic crimes, including tax evasion. Ai told Reuters earlier that he had not received a formal notice from the authorities to explain the allegation.

In the Newsweek article, Ai wrote that none of his art represents Beijing.

"The Bird's Nest – I never think about it," he wrote. "After the Olympics, the common folks don't talk about it because the Olympics did not bring joy to the people."

He wrote about the "secretive way" people came up to him in a park last week, giving him a thumbs up or patting him on the shoulder.

"No one is willing to speak out. What are they waiting for? They always tell me, 'Weiwei, leave the nation, please.' Or 'Live longer and watch them die,'" Ai wrote.

He previously had said he would never emigrate, but the latest article left that in question. "Either leave, or be patient and watch how they die," he wrote. "I really don't know what I'm going to do."


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August 10 2011

Ai Weiwei interrogated by Chinese police 'more than 50 times'

Artist and activist detained by authorities for 81 days for alleged tax evasion has spoken little of his ordeal

Police interrogated Chinese artist Ai Weiwei more than 50 times during his detention and threatened him with up to 10 years in jail for inciting subversion, Reuters news agency has reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the events.

Authorities released Ai in June, amid international outcry over his 81-day detention. State media said he was held for economic crimes and released "because of his good attitude in confessing" and a chronic illness, adding that he had agreed to pay back taxes he had evaded.

But according to Reuters, the source – who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution – said questioning focused on the proposed "Jasmine Revolution" protests in China in February and writings that could constitute subversion. Police officers discussed the contents of Ai's blog and Twitter account "line by line".

His family has always maintained his detention was retaliation for his social and political activism. It came amid a sweeping crackdown on dissidents, activists and lawyers, apparently triggered by the anonymous call on an overseas website for "Jasmine" protests inspired by the Arab spring.

The source said interrogators asked Ai whether he knew who the organisers of the "Jasmine" protests were, but the artist denied all knowledge. The call drew little response in China.

According to the account given to Reuters, plainclothes officers who halted Ai at Beijing airport on 3 April hooded him before putting him in a car and driving him to a secret location where he was held for a fortnight.

The 54-year-old was later moved to another location where two officers watched him round the clock, their faces often inches from his, even monitoring him as he slept and insisting he put his hands on top of the blanket.

He was not allowed to speak and had to request permission to drink water and use the toilet.

"It was immense psychological pressure," the source said.

When Ai told police their actions were illegal, officers replied: "Do you know before Liu Shaoqi died, he was holding the constitution? … Talk about illegality, there's no difference between the country that we are in now and the time of the Cultural Revolution."

Liu was one of China's top leaders but was purged and died during the brutal political turmoil which Mao Zedong unleashed in the 1960s.

Reuters's source said police told Ai: "You criticised the government, so we are going to let all society know that you're an obscene person, you evaded taxes, you have two wives, we want to shame you. We'll not use politics to deal with you."

Even on the day of his release, officers reminded Ai he could still face 10 years in jail for inciting subversion to state power – a vaguely-worded charge often used against dissidents – the source said. He had to agree to conditions including no media interviews, no meetings with foreigners, no use of the internet and no interaction with human rights advocates for one year from his return home.

Ai has given few details of his detention, beyond saying that he experienced "extreme conditions", and says he is not able to give interviews. But he has spoken to media including the Guardian, and this week attacked the treatment of friends held because of him in several Twitter messages.


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July 28 2011

VernissageTV PDF-Magazine No. 18: Ai Weiwei’s Architecture, Matti Suuronen’s Futuro, Guerra de la Paz’ Venice

Out now: VernissageTV PDF-magazine No. 18, July 2011.

VernissageTV’s PDF Magazin No. 18 has its focus on the two major art events this year, the 54th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, and Art 42 Basel. Highlights of No. 18 are a personal look at five days in Venice by Miami-based artist duo Guerra de la Paz, and exclusive video and audio downloads for the readers of this issue. Then there are photo galleries showing Elmgreen & Dragset’s exhibition at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s Submarine Wharf in Rotterdam, and Ai Weiwei’s solo show Art / Architecture at Kunsthaus Bregenz. For design lovers, there’s a report on Matti Suuronen’s Futuro, House of the Future of the 1960s.

Artists in this issue: Ai Weiwei, Matti Suuronen, Elmgreen & Dragset, and Guerra de la Paz.

Click image or this link to download the magazine (20 MB) or hit the jump to view in Issuu Reader.

View in Issuu Reader:

Exclusive downloads for VernissageTV Members: ...


July 18 2011

Ai Weiwei: Art / Architecture at Kunsthaus Bregenz

The Kunsthaus in Bregenz / Austria explores the architectural work of Ai Weiwei with a solo show titled Art / Architecture. While not as widely presented as his artistic oeuvre, Ai Weiwei’s work in the field of architecture is extremely important for the artist because of the collaborative – that is social and political – aspect of it.

On three floors of architect Peter Zumthor’s Kunsthaus building, the exhibition focuses on Ai Weiwei’s collaborative architecture projects such as the Beijing National Stadium (colloquially as the Bird’s Nest), developed in collaboration with the Pritzker price winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, but also numerous projects with lesser known architects.

This video takes you on a walk through the exhibition. The tour begins on the first floor with architectural models, plans, photographs and video documentations of specific projects, continues on the second floor with Ordos 100 (2011), a piece specifically created for this show, and finally culminates with the most abstract work of the show, Moon Chest (2008).

VernissageTV also met with the director of the Kunsthaus Bregenz, Yilmaz Dziewior, who talks about the idea behind the show, the concept of the exhibition, the significance of Ai Weiwei’s architectural work, and the supporting program.

Ai Weiwei: Art / Architecture at Kunsthaus Bregenz. Interview with Director Yilmaz Dziewior. Opening reception, July 15, 2011.

PS: See also: Ai Weiwei: Teahouse (2009) at the Museum of Asian Art, Berlin; Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern Turbine Hall, London; and Acconci Studio and Ai Weiwei: A Collaborative Project / Para/Site Art Space Hong Kong.

> Right-click (Mac: ctrl-click) this link to download Quicktime video file.


July 14 2011

Ai Weiwei accepts teaching job in Germany

China may not allow dissident artist to leave country to take up Berlin post

The leading Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei has accepted a teaching post at a Berlin university, a month after he was released from detention. It is uncertain, however, whether the Chinese authorities will allow him to leave as he remains under tight surveillance.

Ai, who has endured what he described as "extreme conditions" and an 81-day detention in his home country, said on Thursday he was happy to take the offer of a professorship in Germany and that he would continue to focus on freedom of expression in his art.

His lengthy incarceration sparked an international outcry.

"After 81 days put away, I was happy to accept this invitation," he said by phone. "It's an important position, especially when I'm in such a difficult situation."

Ai will not be able to leave China for at least a year because he is under investigation for alleged tax violations and facing tight restrictions.

"My passport has been taken away," he said. "I am not allowed to leave Beijing. I have to report to the police before I go shopping or to a restaurant or to meet friends. They usually allow me to go, but of course I am followed by plainclothes officers."

Ai was taken away by the authorities at Beijing airport on 3 April. He emerged on 22 June, saying he was not allowed to speak about the conditions of his detention. He had clearly lost weight and is now recuperating.

"I have to adjust myself – my body. I was in extreme conditions. I have to spend more time with my family," he said.

Since his release, the previously outspoken Ai has concentrated on his art rather than his activism, but he said his focus was unchanged despite his recent hardship.

"My art will never change. It is deep in my bones. But it has made many things clearer. I have been working in the direction of freedom of expression. I think that is most important for my art."

The authorities are continuing to put pressure on Ai and his associates. At a hearing on Thursday, officials told Ai's wife, Lu Qing, and other representatives of his design firm, Beijing Fake Culture Development Ltd, that the company had not paid corporate taxes for a decade.

Ai will remain under surveillance and tight restrictions until at least 22 June 2012. His status after that is unclear.

The president of the Berlin University of the Arts, Martin Rennert, is optimistic that the artist will be able to take up a guest professorship. Rennart said on the university's website: "We of course also interpret the acceptance as a positive signal as far as his present situation is concerned and are confident that Ai Weiwei will start working at our university in the near future."

A spokeswoman for the university said on Thursday that the decision to offer Weiwei the professorship was made in April, soon after his arrest.

"We only heard a week or so later that the news had reached him," Claudia Assmann said. "And then three days ago we received a written confirmation that he would accept the professorship, not from him directly but from an intermediary." Assmann said Ai said he would very much like to take up the position and felt very honoured.

The decision to offer him the post was in part a way of showing support for him as a dissident, which was then given greater impetus by his arrest," she said.

"In December we first had talks about whether we should try and involve Ai Wei Wei, an unbelievably interesting personality, with our university. That was at a point at which, yes he was always very critical of the regime but it was not a question of life and limb, the pressure from the Chinese regime was not so much in the foreground. It was then accelerated by his arrest," Assmann said.

"The process of making the offer to him was very advanced, and then when he was arrested in April we wanted and had to react quickly. The whole thing was given a bit more impetus in order to then also give him a political signal."

Asked whether she thought Ai would be able to take up the post, Assman said that the university was ready for him, but that it remained unclear if the Chinese authorities would permit him to go.

"We are prepared for him to come. It would naturally give us great pleasure. It is now up to the Chinese government when he will actually be allowed to leave the country. But we see it as very positive signal that he is now obviously in a situation that he can officially issue an acceptance of the post. We are very confident that it is completely realistic that some day he will come here and teach," she said.

Ai said he was unclear how long the assignment would last, but it could initially be for three years.

If Ai is allowed to leave, he would be the second prominent Chinese artist to move to Berlin after being persecuted at home. Last week, the author Liao Yiwu arrived in Germany after smuggling himself out of China. He had been denied an exit visa 17 times.


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June 28 2011

Ai Weiwei 'landed with £1m bill' from Chinese tax office

Chinese artist told he owes 5m yuan in unpaid taxes and will be fined 7m yuan, according to lawyer friend

Beijing tax authorities are seeking more than £1m in unpaid taxes and fines from the outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was released last week from nearly three months in detention, one of his close friends has said.

Ai was released on bail last Wednesday. The Chinese authorities said he confessed to tax evasion and pledged to repay the money owed. His family has denied he evaded any taxes and activists have denounced the accusation as a false premise for detaining Ai, who spoke out against the authoritarian government and its repression of civil liberties.

The Beijing local taxation bureau informed Ai that he owed around 5m yuan (£484,000) in unpaid taxes and that he would be fined about 7m yuan (£678,000), said Liu Xiaoyuan, a human rights lawyer based in the Chinese capital. Liu does not legally represent Ai, but has been a friend and supporter for many years.

Ai, who has shown his work in London, New York and Berlin, has earned huge sums selling his work at auctions and through galleries. Last year, he filled the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern gallery in London with millions of handmade porcelain sunflower seeds. A 100kg pile of the seeds sold for £349,250 at auction in February.

Ai's mother, Gao Ying, said two tax bureau officials delivered the notice to her son on Monday and asked him to sign it in acknowledgment but he refused. Gao said she was not sure of the specifics in the notice, but that the alleged violations took place over the past decade.

"We don't know anything about these taxes," she said. "These taxes date back 10 years. Why, at that time, if they really had not paid their taxes, why did they not say anything about it every year?"

Ai declined to comment, saying the terms of his bail barred him from doing media interviews. He was the most high-profile target of the government's nationwide crackdown on bloggers, lawyers and activists aimed at derailing potential democratic uprisings like those in the Middle East and north Africa.

When he was released, the Chinese foreign ministry repeated allegations reported earlier by state media that a company linked to Ai, Beijing Fake Cultural Development, had evaded a "huge amount" of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents.

Previously, Ai's wife, Lu Qing, said the company, which handles business aspects of his art career, belonged to her.

Calls to the local tax office in Chaoyang district, where Ai's studio is located, went unanswered on Tuesday.

Lu has said he is forbidden to discuss the conditions of his detention and release and is followed by police in plain clothes whenever he leaves the house.

Ai's detention prompted an international outcry among artists, politicians and human rights activists, and western leaders called it a sign of China's deteriorating human rights situation. His family and supporters say he is being punished for speaking out about the Communist leadership and social problems.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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