Recent times…where are we living?

In December 2010, the Big Think focused a series on ‘When China Rules the World’, publishing an article on the ’10 People Changing the Face of China’, which included contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. They stated Ai “has moved his politics well beyond art to take on the deeply embedded and endemic corruption that plagues the Chinese system…Through his art, his politics and his online tweeting, Ai is certain to continue to offend and upset, bringing a harsh spotlight and a hope for change in the process.” We all hope for this change, every single day, and more so during the recent events that have happened over the past four days.

On Sunday morning, Ai was detained by the Chinese police as he attempted to board a plane to Hong Kong. We have, worryingly, heard no word since and it’s been over 72 hours. Many of his studio assistants have also been taken in for questioning including Alison Klayman, a filmmaker who is working on his new documentary ‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry‘. I have been informed directly by certain journalists, who have written comprehensively and very recently about Ai, have to now cap (i.e. censor) their writing. I don’t think any of us ever thought Ai would “disappear”, a term which I use loosely as I’m sure we could put other verbs in there which would describe the situation a lot better.

I took this photo at the Ai Weiwei river crab "party of politics" in Shanghai (November 2010), prior to his studio being demolished by the Chinese government.

Surely, as we all know, the publicity he receives for his creative endeavours benefits China through international and “transcultural” cultural relations. Where and what kind of world are we living in? I wonder whether it’s because Ai recently tweeted he wanted to move to Berlin and the government weren’t content with that transition…when I know full well it’s because they don’t appreciate his freedom of expression and human rights, in addition to his anti-political “messages”. In the most recent press coverage from today, it claims the Chinese government has attacked Western governments for demanding the release of detained artist Ai Weiwei, where in the Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times, they say “Ai Weiwei […] has been close to the red line of Chinese law. As long as Ai Weiwei continuously marches forward, he will inevitably touch the red line one day…Ai Weiwei will be judged by history, but he will pay a price for his special choice”.

“The law will not concede before the maverick.”

Very hard-hitting words that I’m sure will resonate for a very long time. A lot of possibles and what-ifs are flying around the cultural journalism world at the moment. All we can do is wait and see how this political turmoil unfolds. It does make you question what happens to those missing people who don’t have this international kudos behind them. I definitely think we should be thinking about them…and their families.

A few good articles on the story’s development include the Guardian – ‘Ai Weiwei’s detention in China causes growing global concern’, The Telegraph – ‘Ai Weiwei’s wife fears for his safety’ and ‘China breaks silence on Ai Weiwei’s detention’, CNN – ‘China blasts ‘maverick’ artist Ai Weiwei after reported arrest’, and The New York Times – ‘China Takes Dissident Artist Into Custody’. Also if you want to keep up-to-date I’d follow the Ai Weiwei English Translation tweets and website….and the Never Sorry Twitter account. Ai Weiwei’s family has just started a petition via Twitter (Twitition) to get his freed…sign up here…do it now. A recent demonstration took place in Hong Kong for the freedom of Ai Weiwei…images can be seen here. I was a little apprehensive about talking about this and online…but I have….I feel it’s important to speak about this here and now.

What else has caught my eye this week…I came across a few videos including this one on how artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel overcomes creative ruts (on the Big Think website)…I quite liked its message…

“It’s better to make a mistake that not do anything.” – Julian Schnabel

Another interesting watch is this TEDxDubai talk, which looks at language loss and the globalisation of English by Patricia Ryan…English as the undisputed global language, followed by Chinese.

April is already becoming a very busy month and I swear its not going to calm down until mid-July time…at least the sun is starting to shine, which makes the whole world a better place. So I will be attending many conferences and symposium including the ‘Chongqing Residency Symposium’ at the Chinese Arts Centre, which looks specifically at experiences from the 501 Residency in Chongqing, China. I thought this might be a great opportunity to see how the artists of Chinese and Western descent dealt with the different cultural ideals and the idea of “transcultural”exchange. I will also be presenting a paper at the one-day conference ‘Boundaries? New Histories of Art, Architecture and Design’ at the University of Bristol on the 27th April 2011. I submitted a paper entitled ‘Transcultural Translation – Writing Contemporary Chinese Art History’, which will discuss how the identity of contemporary Chinese art today “translates” from a Chinese to Western perspective and context through the use of and understanding of recently coined terms in China and the West. In a response to the public’s need for critical engagement, to look beyond the local, regional and national to the international sphere, and an art historical desire to constantly redefine the current status of contemporary Chinese art, I will discuss the use of two specific terms, ‘glocal’ and ‘transcultural’. I have actually (provisionally) had this paper (before it’s even been written) accepted for publication in the World Art journal by Routledge…the only thing is I’ve got to send it to them by the 12th April. Eeekk! As ever a very tight deadline that I will meet…let’s get typing, though it’s never that easy. What else? In the April issue of a-n magazine, I have had published the exhibition review I wrote regarding ‘Journeymen’ at the Airspace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent…take a look at it here. Finally, as regards my PhD, I have just outlined my thesis, including chapters headings and brief overviews, and I am now arranging chapter deadlines. SUDDENLY, it all becomes real and I can see how and what I am working towards. Just a lot of sorting and organisation of collated information first…transcribing and more transcribing. One step at a time. So I am aiming to have half my thesis written by this time next year, which I think is completely doable (I like the word doable). I’m off to write and write and write…write to me if you’d like.

Oh and one last thing…a friend sent me a link to this beautiful project called ‘Dear Blank, Please Blank…’ by Jared Wunsch and Hans Johnson. It’s just nice, right?


  1. “I was a little apprehensive about talking about this and online…but I have….I feel it’s important to speak about this here and now.”

    Why be apprehensive? It’s super important. If foreigners feel apprehensive, what would Chinese people think??

  2. A point well made Daniel…I’m not apprehensive about writing, just concerned about returning to China myself next year…though perhaps I’m thinking of the extreme.

    “Whether or not you write well, write bravely” (William Stout)

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