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September 29 2014

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September 23 2014

July 31 2012

Team GB poster: keep calm and carry on – we've still got Bradley Wiggins

Team GB officials are urging us not to panic. So, let's take them at their word: print out our poster and place it in your window





March 08 2011

Zaha Hadid | Architect

Iraqi architect who has designed buildings all over the world and last year won the Stirling prize

Born and raised in Iraq, Hadid, 60, has lived in Britain since 1971, but her adopted country has been slow to embrace her talent – that is now changing, with her waved Olympic aquatic centre due to open, joining her school in Brixton and a cancer centre in Kirkcaldy. Last year she won the Stirling prize for her Maxxi museum in Rome.


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Tacita Dean | Top 100 women

Turner nominated artist who is set to fill the Tate's Turbine Hall

Tacita Dean, 45, will become a great deal more famous this October, when her work for Tate Modern's Turbine Hall is unveiled. She should already be a household name. Nominated for the Turner prize in 1998, notable In truth, she should already be a household name: the quiet seriousness, gentle curiosity and unfailing beauty of her art ought to have seen to that. But Dean, who lives and makes her work, largely in film, in Berlin, is not a limelight-seeker; she inspires not through personal flamboyance but through the careful seriousness of her practice. works include The Presentation Sisters, which quietly and observantly follows a group of Irish nunsas they perform the ritual of their daily lives. A recent work, Prisoner Pair, filmed pears suspended in schnapps as they grew and ripened in the bottle (an Alsatian delicacy), an almost eventless 11-minute work in which one's attention was brought to bear on to the minute incremental changes to burnished light and brooding shadow.


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Paula Rego | Top 100 women

Portuguese painter who broke boundaries at the Slade School of Art and was nominated for the Turner prize in her 50s

To look over Paula Rego's body of work is to look over the landscape of women's experience: desire, abortion, rape, female circumcision, childbirth, family relationships, dominating and being dominated by men; her masculine female figures are sometimes lonely, but usually fierce and often bent on revenge. Success came relatively late in life – a graduate of the Slade School of Art at a time when female artists were taught how to support and inspire their "superior" male artist partners ("women were good either for going to bed with or making good wives – particularly if they came with their own money and could support the men".

Rego, now 75, was in her 40s before her first big solo exhibition, and in her 50s when she was nominated for the Turner prize. Although she was made a dame last year, Rego was born in Portugal and in 2009, a In 2009, Paula Rego – House of Stories, a gallery dedicated to housing her work, opened in Portugal. Germaine Greer, whose portrait by Rego hangs in the National Portrait Gallery says, "no other artist has ever come close to capturing Rego's sense of the phantasmagoria that is female reality."


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October 09 2010

Ai Weiwei: The rebel who has suffered for his art | The Observer profile

His installations have led to beatings by the Chinese police. Now the provocative artist is holding his first London exhibition at Tate Modern

As crowds converged for the opening of the Beijing Olympics, their expectation turned into a collective gasp as a red glow appeared from within the stadium known universally as the Bird's Nest. The building was the showpiece of the Games – and therefore of modern China. Entwining momentum with sturdiness, chaos with order, its vortex of 42,000 tonnes of steel latticework is a marvel of imagination and engineering, one of the great new buildings in the world.

How strange, then, that when it came to meeting Ai Weiwei, the man who designed it, he turned out to be a gentle, thoughtful, but bear-like man. The architects of the stadium, Herzog & de Meuron of Switzerland, called him the project's "creative consultant", but Ai said, characteristically, of his role: "I don't need a title – I would prefer 'the Untitled'."

Ai is China's leading artist, one of the most remarkable in the world, and on Tuesday, his work arrives for the first time in Britain, perhaps the most awaited event yet to be unveiled in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall.

The timing of Ai exhibiting in London could not be more fortuitous: his installation opens four days after the Nobel peace prize committee in Stockholm had shown itself less enamoured of China's regime than politicians and businessmen when awarding the prize to imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Ai is based in a studio complex in a peculiar and intriguing corner of Beijing. 798 Arts Zone and the series of studios beyond it constitute a cranny where old streets and buildings have been spared by the bulldozer and turned into a kind of trendy theme park in which the authorities seem not only to permit but – unusually for them – encourage cultural activity.

This is where the pavement cafes are found, along with art galleries and boutiques that sell Mao chic clothing (silk dressing gowns printed with pictures of the Red Guard).

His father was Ai Qing, a painter and China's leading poet, who had worked in Paris and was influenced by Gogol and Dostoevsky. He was first imprisoned – as a communist – by the nationalist regime and then as a dissident during Chairman Mao's cultural revolution.

In 1967, when Ai was 10, Ai Qing and his family were exiled to a hard labour camp in a remote village at Xinjiang, in the Gobi desert. "There," says Ai, "my father was punished by being made to clean the public toilets for five years. He was beaten and kept in very severe physical deprivation." Ai Qing died in 1996.

Such an upbringing obviously moulded the artist Ai became. "I know what I know," Ai says, "because, as a child, I have seen the opposite of freedom. I have seen many people killed, the results of stupidity and cruelty, and the results of courage."

In 1978, Ai enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy, before founding an avant garde circle called the Stars. In his third year, in 1981, Ai won a scholarship to go to the US, working in New York's East Village, where he lived for 12 years and, he says, "found myself among friends, artistically – I wanted to stay forever".

But in 1993, when his father fell ill, Ai returned to China despite his green card, establishing a studio called East Village, then his current one, Real/Fake – an oblique pun on the name of an exhibition he staged in Shanghai called Fuck Off . There, his  installations included painting a Coca-Cola label on to an ancient Han vase and dropping another to smash it, a photograph of which featured on the cover of a book entitled So Sorry.

Another part of the studio's programme involved Ai's wife, Lu Qing, lifting up her skirt and showing her knickers to the portrait of Chairman Mao that presides over Tiananmen Square along with modern China's other icons, Nike and Valentino.  These antics were not to the taste of every artist on the Chinese fringe, some now seeking to acknowledge and explain, rather than challenge, the new economic order.

One critic, Xu Bing, told the New Yorker: "These things [Ai's installations] are not without value", but although China "still has a lot of problems, like the disparity between rich and poor… it really has solved many problems. China's economy is developing so quickly – I'm interested in why this has happened. Not everyone can be like Ai Weiwei, because then China wouldn't be able to develop, right?"

It was a fine stroke by Herzog & de Meuron to turn Ai from rascal of the Chinese alternative into the muse for China's second most recognisable monument after the Great Wall. It meant Ai could do what most Chinese cannot: speak his mind about the regime. On the eve of the Olympics, he said: "I feel outraged at the Chinese government and I am disgusted by the way power is abused in this country." But the Olympics, he said, were "a good opportunity for greater transparency in China".

Ai's problems with the regime continued, ironically, because of his greatest gift to Chinese prowess, the Bird's Nest. He's never visited the building he inspired: "I have never been in a stadium in my life," Ai says. "I doubt I will ever go into the Bird's Nest."

He left Beijing for the Olympics, "not as a boycott – as some have said," he explained. "I don't want to have to talk about it all the time. I am much more interested in what is going to happen to [the stadium] after the Games. I would like it to become a place where people like to go, bring their children or can come for mass weddings, or maybe mass divorces or, best of all, to have barbecues together.'

But his critique goes much deeper than either slogans or subversive barbecues and is not restricted to China.  It is in the stadium design itself: one of the most striking things about the Bird's Nest is the way the latticework makes the arena open to the exterior. Many observed that this was a way of keeping the smog from settling, by admitting a breeze.

But there was another reason, too, Ai says. "It is intended to be a statement about the need for a more open society, open discussion, greater transparency. I don't believe you can relate architecture to political statements, but architecture will always relate to ideology. And I do not see ideology as a matter of left and right, or east and west, any more. I see the tension in ideology," he says, "as being between a more interesting state of mind and a more dreadful state of mind. The artist should be for the interesting against the dreadful."

Thinking of this kind makes Ai not only a great artist, but a thinker of the world's next political and intellectual phase, beyond the turgid babble of contemporary politics. One of his recent tweets to 48,000 followers read: "One day people will wake up and find themselves unable to believe that we have been through an age of stupidity and humiliation".  His recent Study of Perspective features Ai's middle finger stuck up at the White House and Tiananmen Square.

The Chinese authorities remain acutely aware of Ai's complex and innovative heresy and in China, an "edgy" artist has to face greater challenges than mockery or dismissive critics. While he was exhibiting in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, in August 2009, Ai's hotel door was kicked down in the early hours by police goons who then beat him about the head.

Ai's "installation" in the province was a public list of more than 5,000 schoolchildren killed by the 2008 earthquake, based on door-to-door inquiries (the regime steadfastly refused to disclose how many lives were lost; it is a "national secret").

A month later, in Munich, Ai suffered a haemorrhage as a result of the blow. He was in the Bavarian capital to cover the walls of the Haus der Kunst with thousands of brightly coloured school backpacks spelling out Chinese characters quoting the lament of a mother of a dead child in Sichaun interviewed as part of Ai's project: "She lived happily for seven years in this world."

When we finished our conversation in 2008, Ai said he would next have to choose between taking a nap and playing with his beloved cat, whose name is Come Over. And 18 months ago, Ai broke his resolution never to sire a child under the present Chinese regime – Lu Qing bore him a son.

This week, this kind of man, this kind of artist, unveils what he has to say in London, and whatever it is, may we take note. 


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


April 15 2009

June 04 2008

TERRA 431: Crazy Dream PREVIEW

Steve Titus has what he calls a 'hobby gone awry.’ His solo garage project, self-funded and self-improvised, is to change the world by designing the ‘Solar Bug’ – a prototype for a combination ATV and solar electric car. Steve joins a long lineage of tinkerers, experimenters, and resourceful inventors who have pioneered ideas in their backyard pursuit of a more sustainable and society. The ultimate message is this: if you are passionate about an idea, start today, don’t hold back, and leave your naysayers in the dust.
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