The conceptual Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has personally invited the Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit his exhibition in Berlin, during the leader’s visit to Germany, later this month. The dissident artist who had his passport confiscated following a ninety day detention in 2011 is unable to leave his country to attend. Mr Ai hopes that one day he’ll meet the president. “We grew up, both of us, during the Cultural Revolution. We are products of that system. Why did I become so different? I would very much like to meet him one time, to discuss privately, so I can understand some of these things that have been puzzling me.“
Mr Ai said; “It would be good if the president found the time to go visit the exhibition. He would see how a man of the same age as him and from the same background can become a totally different person,” Ai told the daily Suddeutsche Zeitung on Saturday. “We both belong to what is known as the second red generation. Our parents were the generation that founded communism. In fact, his father and my father were good friends.”
Xi Jinping is on an official visit to Berlin as part of a larger European whistle stop tour which takes place from 22 March until 1 April. This is the most comprehensive exhibition of Mr Ai’s work. The installation is currently under way at Berlin’s Martin-Gropius Bau hall.
Mr Ai positions himself in and out of his Beijing studio as a cultural arbiter. Compelled by a sense of social conscience, his artistic practice extends across many roles, from filmmaker and photographer, to writer, publisher, curator and architect. As an heir to Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, yet digging deep into Chinese heritage, he moves freely between a variety of formal languages, reflecting on contemporary geopolitics. In recycling historical materials, loaded with meaning, such as Han Dynasty vases or wood from destroyed temples, Ai distils ancient and modern aesthetics in works of salvage or iconoclasm. Public commissions, like bringing 1,001 Chinese citizens to the small German town of Kassel for documenta 12 (Fairytale, 2007), or the pouring of hundreds of millions of handmade porcelain seeds into the Tate’s Turbine Hall (Sunflower Seeds, 2010), are audacious gestures that command global attention, but always underlain with humor and compassion. He is one of the leading cultural figures of his generation and consistently displays great courage in placing himself at risk to affect social change through his art. He serves as an example for legitimate social criticism and free expression both in China and internationally.
Photo: © P C Robinson Artlyst 2014