I WENT TO BEIJING TO INTERVIEW AI WEIWEI, AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT
We send our best wishes to Ai Weiwei on his release from three months of Chinese government detention. We sincerely hope that he will be able to resume his activist role as provocateur, dissident and gadfly within China, continually offering a critique of the entrenched Communist Party bureaucracy.
Thus far, he has been loath to give an interview regarding his detention, undoubtedly part of the terms of his “qubao houshen” - the deal he needed to make with his captors to obtain release. Apparently this deal includes one year of restrictions: no Twitter, no interviews, no foreign travel, and even reports on prospective trips within China.
As noted by Barbara Pollack in a recent Artnet piece, constant pressure from the Western art establishment - artists, critics, curators, museums - certainly contributed to Ai's release, but there is still the danger that his full range of artistic expression has been placed in jeopardy. This includes not just his sculpture and installation work, but also his online activism. "Now is not the time", she says, "to lessen the pressure to restore his freedom to communicate with the world."
Hans Ulrich Obrist has declared that Ai Weiwei's online activism is his form of social sculpture and his most potent form of art making. If so, now is not the time to lessen the pressure to restore his freedom to communicate with the world. While museums from Asia Society to the Hirshhorn plan Ai Weiwei exhibitions of his photographs and sculptures, we cannot ignore that his online oeuvre -- the least marketable and institution-friendly aspect of his work -- is being silenced. Until now, western museums have rarely demanded that the Chinese respond to calls for freedom of expression. With the case of Ai Weiwei, such a demand is unavoidable.
So consider this mockup of a typical tourist t-shirt my gentle prod towards the restoration of unfettered free speech and full artistic expression to Ai Weiwei, in both the "real" and online realms.