LONDON.- Named by ArtReview as the most powerful artist in the world, Ai Weiwei is China's most celebrated contemporary artist, and its most outspoken domestic critic. In April 2011, when Ai disappeared into police custody for three months he quickly became Chinas most famous missing person, having first risen to international prominence in 2008 after helping design Beijings iconic Birds Nest Olympic Stadium-and then publicly denouncing the Games as party propaganda. Since then, Ai Weiweis critiques of Chinas repressive regime have ranged from playful photographs of his raised middle finger in front of Tiananmen Square to searing memorials to the more than 5,000 schoolchildren who died in shoddy government construction in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Against a backdrop of strict censorship, Ai has become a kind of Internet champion, using his blog and constant -and frequently witty-use of Twitter to organize, inform and inspire his followers, becoming an underground hero to millions of Chinese citizens.
First-time director Alison Klayman gained unprecedented access to the charismatic artist, as well as his family and others close to him, while working as a journalist in Beijing. In the years she filmed, government authorities shut down Ais blog, beat him up, bulldozed his newly built studio, and held him in secret detention-while Time magazine named him a runner-up for 2011s Person of the Year. Her compelling documentary portrait is the inside story of a passionate dissident for the digital age who inspires global audiences and blurs the boundaries of art and politics.
INTERVIEW WITH AI WEIWEI
Q: What would you like people to do after seeing the film?
Ai Weiwei: I think (by seeing the film) the audience will first have some knowledge about who I am and what kind of issues I am always concerned about as an artist. I think they should really think that freedom of expression is very valuable, and they should treasure this right. In many areas and locations around the world, you can completely lose your freedom simply because you are asking for freedom. You even never have a chance to speak out. In many developed societies people take freedom of expression for granted, but at the same time it would be a crime to be ignorant of the efforts that other people make for this right. Humans share all values as a common property. You cannot pretend you dont know it, and you cant say it has nothing to do with me. That would only make you as a very selfish person and very shortsighted. What made me a recognizable figure is only because I do have an issue, and also because I successfully use the Internet, to a degree. I can communicate more freely through the Internet and media to carry out the message, so this is very important- you have the message and you have a way to carry it out. I hope people watching this they also can realize that, I think today we are living in a very different world and today we do have new possibilities, and we can make the world into a better place for everybody.
Q: How does the documentary make China look?
Ai Weiwei: The documentary is about reality, its about the reality that has been existing in this piece of land for decades. China is developing itself, but in certain cases such as the judicial system and freedom of speech, it has hardly developed. Its still under very strong control. But I think China cannot afford not to change. It takes time, but only when theres pressure, when theres a demand for it. We all know humans are not going to change by themselves if theres no pressure there.
Q: What would Chinese audiences think of the film?
Ai Weiwei: I dont think it will ever be seen by the public in mainland China, only a small public will ever see it in China. Only on YouTube or online, which is just a few people, less than 0.1 percent who technically can jump over the Great Firewall and watch it. But still thats very important, the effort is important only because its so difficult. I think its good for anybody to see it, the government and officials and police should see it. They should understand
they should face the reality, and to understand what is in the struggle. Otherwise they have no way to evaluate themselves. Because they think all Western people hate China or are trying to overthrow the government, but they dont really look at each individual case to see what is the intention and how to make it better. I think this film will help make it better. I think this is very important to let people understand the situation.