Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has finally begun his three-year guest professorship at the Berlin University of the Arts. On Sunday, the new visiting professor was asked whether he could define art. The 58-year-old Ai gave an interesting reply.
“I am unable to say anything about this,” the artist stated, speaking to the audience – yet he continued to mull over the question. “It’s a bit like with sex,” the artist exclaimed. “One can have a lot of experience, and nevertheless find it extremely difficult to define.”
The artist also told the audience that he was looking forward to the challenges of three years of public contact as a visiting professor and that he appreciated the school’s open and democratic environment. Ai also told the audience that he takes about 50,000 photographs a year and even captured images at the event.
Chinese authorities recent ly returned the artist’s passport after it was revoked four years ago, after seizing the artist’s passport and declining requests to allow him to leave the country. After persistent harassment from the authorities, Ai was detained in 2011 for 81 days without charge. A company he founded was later convicted of tax evasion by the Chinese authorities. The artist remained under surveillance and was unable to leave the country. Ai was released on one year’s probation in June 2011, but the government retained his passport.
“I intend to travel back and forth, provided they let me in and out again,” the artist said last week. “I am not in control of that.” The artist added that he had already travelled to Beijing from Berlin once in October.
The artist has selected 16 students from about 100 applicants with knowledge of media, design and fashion, among other things. Ai – who has repeatedly criticised China’s human rights record – has stated that he would not necessarily focus on politics during his time in Berlin, although the artist does plan on doing some work focused on refugees.
“I will be teaching art. Of course these questions are in me, but I do not intend to put my students under pressure with them. Everyone has the right to decide for themselves on their principles.”
Lead photo: P A Black © 2015