Stadium creator publicly regrets his part in the Beijing Olympics
Ai Weiwei, the Chinese dissident artist has stated in a Japanese newspaper that he should never have helped the Communist Party to stage a successful Olympic Games. He regrets his contribution in building the radical stadium which became a centrepiece for the promotion of a new modern China.
All eyes focused on the futuristic architecture designed as a collaboration between the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron in April 2003 after a bidding process that included 13 final submissions. The design, which originated from the study of Chinese ceramics, implemented steel beams in order to hide supports for the retractable roof; giving the stadium the appearance of a “Bird’s nest”. Leading Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was the artistic consultant on the project. The retractable roof was later removed from the design after inspiring the stadium’s most recognizable aspect. Ground was broken on 24 December 2003 and the stadium officially opened on 28 June 2008. Ai Weiwei is set to reunite with Herzog & de Meuron to design the 2012 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion which will open in July in time for the London Olympics.
Mr Ai, who is under constant surveillance at his home in the Chinese capital, believes the 2008 Games were just propaganda for the ruling party. “The Beijing Olympics have oppressed the life of the general public with the latest technologies and a security apparatus of 700,000 guards,” he told the paper.”It was merely a stage for a political party to advertise its glory to the world,” he said. “I became disenchanted because I realised I was used by the government to spread their patriotic education. Since the Olympics, I haven’t looked at (the stadium),” he said.
After living in the United States from 1981 to 1993, Ai returned to his native Beijing and created the seminal work Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn 1995. This photo-triptych depicted the artist dropping an ancient ceramic vase, which smashed on the floor at his feet. This work not only began the artist’s continuing reuse of antique readymade objects, it also demonstrated his questioning attitude towards cultural values and social history. For Fairytale 2007 Ai invited 1001 Chinese citizens to ‘colonise’ Kassel in Germany for the Documenta 12 exhibition and distributed 1001 Qing and Ming Dynasty chairs in venues across the city. For Template 2007 he used more ancient readymades, in the form of 1001 wooden doors and windows from destroyed Chinese buildings. These were installed as a huge sculpture that collapsed in a storm soon after completion, creating a twisted, crumpled structure that the artist chose to preserve.
The past few years has seen some of Ai Weiwei’s most profound works, while continuing to develop his concern for the social and political. To commemorate the 2008 Sichuan earthquake he produced Remembering 2009, a wall of Chinese text that covered the façade of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, made up of thousands of children’s backpacks. The text reads ‘She lived happily for seven years in this world’, a quote from a mother who lost her child in the disaster. Also for the Haus der Kunst, Ai manufactured a carpet to cover 380 square metres of floor space. Entitled Soft Ground 2009, it was painstakingly designed to mimic each of the 969 individual tiles on the floor below, becoming a map of the traces left by 70 years of exhibitions and visitors. The artist has said that “Liberty is about the right to question everything”, and whether visually subtle or spectacular, Ai Weiwei’s large-scale installations are always the result of a constantly enquiring mind and constitute a powerfully thought-provoking body of work.
Ai Weiwei has exhibited internationally, including recent solo shows at Mori Art Museum, Tokyo and Haus der Kunst, Munich, and has contributed to many group exhibitions around the world, including at Documenta 12, Kassel, Germany and Tate Liverpool, UK. Ai also founded the design company Fake Design and co-founded the China Art Archives and Warehouse in Beijing, The Lisson Gallery ,London. The Unilever Series sunflower installation was recently purchased by the Tate. It will now be part of its permanent collection.