Where There’s a Will, There’s Ai Weiwei
A runner-up for Time magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year, dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has demonstrated the ways in which art and politics can connect with one another to incite social change on an international level. In the new film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, first-time filmmaker Alison Klayman follows Weiwei’s incredible journey as an artist, activist, and icon. The documentary was shot over a three year period in which Klayman collected thousands of photographs of Weiwei and his family, and over 300 hours of footage. The result is an inspirational—and at times comedic—work which thoroughly elucidates the artist’s commitment to free speech and love for his country.
In the film, Weiwei discusses several of his most ambitious projects including his 2009 piece Remembering, in which the artist assembled over 5,000 backpacks to honor the lives of the children lost in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Klayman also travels with the artist to the installation and opening of his 2010 Tate Modern exhibition, where Weiwei covered the museum’s Turbine Hall with upwards of 100 million porcelean sunflower seeds, representing agrarian culture and labor in China.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the film, though, is the role that social media appears to have played in the success of Ai Weiwei and the spread of his ideological message. Despite China’s Great Firewall, Weiwei has managed to use his Twitter feed to mobilize supporters and plan demonstrations. And in 2011 when the artist was detained by Chinese police for 81 days, Weiwei followers took to the web where they championed for his freedom.
The film concludes with Weiwei’s release in June 2011, at which point the artist appears to have lost some of that fearless bravado his followers so greatly admired. Though Weiwei has been back on his Twitter feed since, he has kept his pointed anti-Communist statements to a minimum, focusing instead on the umbrella topic of free speech. At a screening for the film Thursday night, Alison Klayman predicted that while Weiwei has tamed his government criticisms in order to comply with his current bail conditions, he has not wavered in his convictions or lost the passion he feels for his country. She expects that Weiwei’s fall retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. will bring with it a new wave of Weiwei activism. After seeing the film, I can only hope that this is true because like Weiwei said, “don’t retreat, retweet!”
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry will open in limited release July 27, 2012.