2017 James T. Demetrion Lecture: Ai Weiwei Transcript
INTERVIEWER: It’s been a real honor to have Ai Weiwei with us for the last couple of days. Some of you would know that even though the work Trace was on display at Alcatraz, Ai Weiwei never quite got the chance to see it. So it’s been great that he’s been able to see it on the site.
When we did our exhibition, which was the first major retrospective survey of his work in 2012, Ai Weiwei also wasn’t able to see it because he was unable to leave the country. So it’s great to have you here in Washington.
Ai Weiwei’s had a chance to see some of Washington, but of course this is not his first visit. He lived here in the United States.
In many ways, I think Ai Weiwei has become known here in the United States for his political activism and commentary, and I thought I would start our conversation tonight with a little bit of a conversation on, actually, Ai Weiwei’s role in the art world– especially in China. Because I would say that in fact, he was there at the very beginning of what we often call the birth of Chinese contemporary art in China in 1979.
Of course, 1979 was also Deng Xiaoping’s declaration of the open door policy, so China opened up. But it was also the year that a group of artists under the name of Stars or Xing Xing had their first avant garde exhibition. And there’s a great story around it in terms of it being an unofficial exhibition. Ai Weiwei was one of the younger artists involved in this.
And I think that it’s impressive for you to have been a young artist and to have been involved in that movement. But it was not really– it didn’t only start there. You also came to New York City and spent time on the Lower East Side and were actively making works.
Actually, some of the photographs that you took from that time were shown here at the Hirshhorn as part of our exhibition. And in fact, 200 of them were also in an exhibition that I organized in New York right on the eve of your arrest.
In fact, I was thinking back to when we first met in China. And I hesitate to say, but it was in the late– it was the mid-1990s. My first trip to China was in 1995. And that was actually a time when China was– the experimental art scene was really emerging.
And Ai Weiwei who had– you had returned to China– had been such an influential force on a younger generation of artists, especially performance artists. Yeah. I think you inspired a whole generation of artist to establish their own Beijing East Village with his own memories of New York’s East Village.
And then if we fast forward to even your role in curating exhibitions, especially the exhibition at the time of the Shanghai Biennale, you have, in fact– yes, you’ve made work. But you’ve always been instrumental in convening other artists around issues and providing commentary.
But I think it was also your comments around the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and then following on the Sichuan earthquake, that I think gave people some insight to your own political intentions that, in a way, went beyond the smaller art world, avant garde, that we knew you well. And then that took you to, I think, a new audience that also allowed us to see your thoughts through social media, which is a much more recent phenomenon.
So yes– we’re responding to the Washington photograph.
So why don’t we start our conversation with the exhibition that’s on display here at the Hirshhorn? I think many of you have had a chance to see it already. Trace was first commissioned and installed at Alcatraz. And that, of course, in and of itself is a very different site.
Maybe we can start with what were your thoughts on the actual creation of Trace?
AI WEIWEI: Thank you, first. I’m very happy to have a chance to visit Hirshhorn. And even this is the second show as you have just said, this is the first time– yesterday was the first time I’ve seen this work being displayed beautifully. And I’m happy to be here.
The Lego piece, Trace, is made for Alcatraz. At that time, I was in detention, so I cannot really travel. So I worked with surer hands. And to dealing with Alcatraz, a federal– old federal prison, I want to do something in relating to prison life or prisoners. So the idea I come up with to dealing with the prisons which lost their freedom because their beliefs, because they have a very different idea or different opinion.
So we worked with Amnesty International to collect all those names and their story, which is around– global. Many, many countries. And we did a careful selection of the prisoners who lost their freedom only because they believed in some ideology, and they speak out for those ideas which they think will benefit to society.
And of those prisoners, some in short sentence, some lifetime sentence. They are still in jail, and they’re not very often– since they will serve sentence for their life. I got to know those stories. And those are real people, and it’s not just an image. It’s– every one of them have a long story behind it.
And I realized many of them doesn’t even have a clear image. If you Google them or search their stories, sometimes it only can come out a very blurred image. And then only one, sometimes. So we– I have to find a way to– a kind of media or language to make those image clear and strong.
So I thought about Lego. Lego is a kind of toy. And my son plays all the time. He’s– now he’s eight years old. At that time he was four or five.
So I think that can do that job. Because a Lego– its structure– it is– it’s a pixel, the image. And it works well with some image which lost color, or blurred, or even just black and white images. And then we tried to make those image very clear and with a clear definition. But also reflects the culture and the geological background in relation to the different regions, the different religions background. So we did a lot more research, and trying to come out the images, which– each of them are different and with different message and a very different way to structure it.
And yeah, it’s a long story. And I haven’t seen that show. As a show, it received a greater response. But today, it showing in Hirshhorn, and it’s a very different location and different background– different time to show the group of people– a group portraits– 176 of them. They all is fighters or soldiers, sacrificed their life because they believe in a certain ideology.
Personally, I respect them a lot. I think they have so much to do with our peaceful life, with today’s prosperity and safety. And I’m very happy Hirshhorn has this mission, and the sensitivity, and we can show it today.
INTERVIEWER: So how did you select the 176 individuals in the work? Because some of them are historical figures like Martin Luther King. But the majority of them are probably more contemporary. So was that a process of you looking at the Amnesty International list? How did you think about who to include and who not to include?
AI WEIWEI: We had to welcome these human rights groups. And we make sure some contemporary, important figure should be there, but the majority of them, I think more than 90% of them are still illegal figure and they’res still serving the sentence.
INTERVIEWER: And how much do you think this idea, the idea of a prisoner of political conscience, someone who has been imprisoned for their beliefs? How do you identify with that? Because obviously, your own personal experience is that.
AI WEIWEI: Well I’m living in a society which freedom of speech is not encouraged. Where I grew up in Chairman Mao’s time, it’s a very harsh political situation, it’s very much like North Korea today, or exactly like that. You can serve a sentence only because one sentence, or only one time you had a opinion. My father, he’s a poet, he studied in Paris in 1930s and went back to China and struggled amidst the Communist to win this new nation. He established the whole this that every revolutionary generation. But right after Chairman Mao got to power, he had this campaign to, sort of an anti-Rightist campaign, which in China you might call it Rightist, it’s just opposite, we call it a Leftist here.
INTERVIEWER: Which was in some ways the–
AI WEIWEI: –society, yeah. So over 300,000 people are punished. You know, 300,000 intellectuals in China is a big number, because there’s not so many educated people at that time. So they’re all being sentenced to hard labor. Many of them suicide, or dead because of the lacking of materials or food. My father survived, but he was forbidden to write for 20 years and doing hard labor. I, growing up with him, my family was the first time in these labor camps, these kind of exile camps in a desert area, mostly remote area. So I have this understanding about why certain society doesn’t like art or hate people who has this kind of freedom in terms of thinking and expressing itself. But for me, this is the most important part of art, and as an artist, I always want to defend that part and China have a lot of reasons, a lot of excuse to defend it. That’s why I become very active in social media also in my art.
INTERVIEWER: So thinking about social media, I think that in some way, I mean, it’s such an extraordinary way of communicating with a much larger group of people than ever before. So can you talk about at what moment you kind of came up with this idea that social media was the way to communicate, where most others had actually previously shunned social media, thinking the immediacy with that encounter of work is more important than being able to communicate with people.
AI WEIWEI: I was trained as a regular artist. I studied for a very short while in Parsons, in New York and spent 10 years here in New York, and just go to galleries and museum shows and finally, I gave up, I think I will never make it, it’s not possible.
INTERVIEWER: In New York when you were there?
AI WEIWEI: Yes, in the 1980s. And then after 12 years being in the United States, I decided to go back once to China, I never really went back in 12 years. And because my father was ill, so I had to make a decision if I have to see him again. And after I went back to China, China had already changed a lot, it’s nothing like what I left. A lot of buildings, highways and a road, it’s quite dramatically changed. But in certain sense, never changed. China is still politically very uptight, it’s never had a–
INTERVIEWER: You mean the public sphere?
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, it’s still very controlled, you still have everything controlled. And so you don’t have freedom, in terms of express yourself or make artwork or showing your work. So that’s when I did those underground magazines.
INTERVIEWER: And the 1994 black book?
AI WEIWEI: Yes, I tried to make some platform for artists to communicate.
INTERVIEWER: So if I might just explain what this is, because it was a very radical idea in its time, which was a book that Ai Weiwei and other artists got together. And it was a series of hypothetical proposals, almost, for very ambitious, mostly installation art, or artist pages from books and things like that. And this was in an environment where artists, there was no gallery system to speak of, and artists couldn’t show their work in museums. And so they basically compiled their ideas in a book for distribution. And I remember going to Beijing and visiting the National Art Gallery, and on the steps of the National Art Gallery, I met an artist and they gave me this black book. And it was full of these amazing kind of propositions, in an environment where they could never be realized other than outside of the country.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, so for a long time, I never imagined China could actually let me have an exhibition. So I did publication and organized some kind of underground shows in the 90s. And I started to have a lot of time, so I started collecting antiquity, you know, old jade or bronze, all those. And I’ve become an expert in that.
INTERVIEWER: And they were readily available at the markets and these kinds of antiquities.
AI WEIWEI: Yes, there’s plenty of them and it’s not very expensive. And then I got involved with architecture and I built my studio, which is a very different building than most existing architecture. So people recognize me as architect, so I got really involved with architecture.
INTERVIEWER: And from memory, it was quite austere. Austere, with grey bricks, very simple design.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, very minimal–
INTERVIEWER: Yes, minimal.
AI WEIWEI: –and very geometry buildings. Then I got involved with the design of The Bird Nest.
INTERVIEWER: The national stadium for the Olympics.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, with Swiss architect Herzog & de Meuron.
INTERVIEWER: Herzog & de Meuron. And you have a project with them right now at the Park Avenue armory, a collaboration.
AI WEIWEI: Yes, I almost forgot.
INTERVIEWER: It was just a couple of weeks ago, but Ai Weiwei currently has eight exhibitions around the world, so we forgive him.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, I had them out–
INTERVIEWER: So how did that collaboration come about? Because I think for many people, that was an unusual collaboration for all sorts of reasons.
AI WEIWEI: It is very, very because before China had the Olympics, they decide to really have a real competition from international architectural world. So they not only invited the top architects, but also invite foreigners as the jury, which is, they never do that, because they always wanted the Chinese to be the jury. So Chinese voting always reflects leaders idea, which one to choose.
INTERVIEWER: And there was always– there was also something of a debate locally in Beijing about so many foreign architects doing major projects, like [INAUDIBLE] house and others.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, the local architects aren’t scholars, they’re very jealous of that, because they prepared a long time to make those buildings, it’s a big opportunity for those, big, big state on the forms to do the Olympics, you know, it’s like a national pride. But to give those most important buildings to foreign architects, which is unacceptable. But China, the top leader made a decision, if we want to invite guests, we have to make something which can be acceptable and show some kind of openness and fairness. That’s only, only a very small gap. And we won the competition, I was invited by Swiss team to join them to do the design. And then we did win the competition. And after, even after we won the competition, still’s a lot of negative criticism about our design, and they almost completely destroyed the design. Only because the time frame is too urgent, so they could not change architects as a moment.
So I got involved with architecture. And actually, 2008, I made a decision to quit architecture, because I realized with the state, you know, architecture is very political, you really have to work with a developer, which is the state, and it’s very bureaucratic. So it’s so much problem, I feel I will never really want to practice architecture anymore, even I was– I did 60 buildings, designs in China.
INTERVIEWER: That’s more than most architects in their lifetime. But 60?
AI WEIWEI: That’s true. I was crazy. And I’m so happy I’m not in that practice anymore.
INTERVIEWER: For a non-architect, you’ve done a lot of buildings.
AI WEIWEI: I did a lot. And so by 2005, something happened, because the state-owned internet company opened my first blog. They said, Weiwei, you’re so well-known in design and you’re always openly discussed as the Commander’s designs. Why don’t you a blog? I said, I’ve never touched a computer, I don’t know how to type. They said, it’s OK, we have sent you an assistant. It’s very simple.
INTERVIEWER: An assistant blogger.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, It’s called the Sina, China’s biggest internet company. So they opened it for me, and the first time I touched a computer and send out one sentence, which took me a long time to see what I’m going to put up. And I got attracted to it.
INTERVIEWER: So do you remember what your first blog was?
AI WEIWEI: I put just one line, to express yourself you need a reason, but to express yourself is the reason. And that’s my first line, but that took me maybe two hours to type those words.
INTERVIEWER: Well it was new form poetry, you’re following in your father’s footsteps.
AI WEIWEI: I said, oh, you can really post, just so simple. So I started to write and I realized my post has been repasted and I retweeted for over 200,000 times, just overnight. I realized, this is so powerful. You don’t even to have your own party, and I just very much liked someone did at midnight, wake up in the morning, and I enjoyed it so much.
INTERVIEWER: So you got addicted to the audience, is that what you’re saying?
AI WEIWEI: You don’t– you forget about all the establishment. You’ll get carried out, and so why do need all this. So I said, could you just give me 30 days, I can make a revolution. You don’t have to walk on the street, hold a banner, and then the police.
INTERVIEWER: You don’t need to do that anymore. You can just blog, right?
AI WEIWEI: No, people retweet and they reposted it. So I’m really bad at carrying out. So I worked on that blog for about three or four years. I got totally shut off.
INTERVIEWER: But it was also your use of your blog when the Sichuan earthquake happened.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, I started to research, to record the cities in my investigation about a state cover-up, corruptions. And it’s very efficient and very powerful. So the state really became very frustrated. First, they ask if I can slow down or to tone down my tone–
INTERVIEWER: Because they were worried about the following that the blog was getting.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah. There was too many people following. I got over 27 million or something, it was very, very big.
INTERVIEWER: In China, there are big numbers. Like 27 million.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, everywhere is so fast. And then even under– they set up a lot, difficult for me to practice, but still, I got a lot of followers. So I really thanked them to shut down my blog, otherwise I would never even sit here. So since 2009, I have to really get on Twitter, because the Chinese internet cannot, my name cannot even, tap outright it says illegal words being used. And people, if they refer to me, they will say that fat guy.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, it’s true.
AI WEIWEI: I’m not so fat.
AI WEIWEI: I work in Washington, I realize how skinny I am.
AI WEIWEI: I love this town, you know, I really love [INAUDIBLE] with great confidence.
INTERVIEWER: You should stay here a little longer.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, yeah, I’ll think about that. It’s really, really nice, you know, the day has been so beautiful for the last three days. The evening are so beautiful there. So, but I have to think about to define a political career here.
INTERVIEWER: You heard it here first. So let’s return a little bit to the social media, because I think that it was a big shift, in some ways, to be producing artworks that were mostly shot in museums and galleries to then having a voice in Twitter. And you do post a lot on Instagram too, so they’re your kind of other forms of communication. What are you thinking about when you use Twitter and Instagram, as opposed to creating works for a gallery museum audience?
AI WEIWEI: For several years, since 2005, I had my– 2004, I had my first art show. That’s 13 years ago.
INTERVIEWER: What do you mean by your first art show?
AI WEIWEI: Because in New York, when I was a student, I had one show, and after that, I never had a show.
INTERVIEWER: You mean your first exhibition in New York, in 2004.
AI WEIWEI: No, in New York, by 2009– no, 1998 I had one show in a small gallery in SoHo. Then the next show I had is 2004, in Switzerland. Bern.
INTERVIEWER: In Bern, yes.
AI WEIWEI: And since then, I have become busy. Every year, I have five to 10 museum shows and now, I think I have over 100 shows already in past 13, 14 years. I talk about one-person show.
AI WEIWEI: But I should say the first four or five years, I spent 90% of my time on internet, maybe 10% on producing art. Yeah, it’s– producing art is–
INTERVIEWER: What were you doing– when you say you were on the internet, you mean social media, or?
AI WEIWEI: Just sitting in front of computer and–
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, and writing articles, I’ve been writing a lot of crazy articles. If I look at it, sometimes I feel ashamed, because I just, I said too much. I criticized too much. I don’t mean to be that harsh, but I did it anyway, I have a lot of reason to do that. But anybody who read it, they would think, this guy is absolutely crazy, you know. And so I ridiculed very last, that got me into a lot of trouble. But 2011, China, the secret police think I could make something like just me revolution because that happened in Mid-East, which made China very scared.
INTERVIEWER: So this was at the same time as the spring.
AI WEIWEI: And they start to think who make something like that, then it’s very easy for them to have conclusions this guy is very dangerous. Actually, I made a lot of social practice, and sometimes, like nonsense. Like [INAUDIBLE] or something, like that type on social media, which generated a lot of people to be involved. And the government is really afraid of things like that, because it’s beyond control. And also, it doesn’t really show clearly political statement, but in that kind of society, people understand it so well. Anything which is different or has some kind of character that immediately draws attention, because the whole landscape is so bad now and so– nothing interesting from my point of view. So I’d become extremely active until I was detained. Then, yeah, the arrest stories is very public.
INTERVIEWER: So looking back now with some distance, there’s always been some discussion as to why you were actually arrested. You mentioned the Jasmine Revolution as being one of the worries of the Chinese government that was just prior to your arrest. So why do you think you were arrested?
AI WEIWEI: I think they think they should give me a lesson because it’s very hard for them even to understand. I come from a revolutionary family. My father was most respected poet for the nation in a very high position with all those leaders. So all those later revolutionary people are influenced by his poetry and become a state leader. So he’s– most state leaders in China can memorize my fathers poetry, would, in the public speech, would come out a sentence, which my father, his poetry being in school books, it’s always in the school books today. So then I went to United States after 12 years, I never get American passport. So for them, it’s very hard to understand this– understand me, why I have to do all those fight and struggle.
So in my detention, they interrogated me over 50 times. The conclusion is Ai Weiwei, you have watched too many Hollywood movies. Which is true, I love Hollywood movies, you know? Even all the way from Berlin to here, I watched Godfather 1 and 2.
INTERVIEWER: Good lessons.
AI WEIWEI: I didn’t finish two, I already planned when I go back, I would finish the two others, two watch the three. Like I miss so– I love that movie, you know? I love something about mafias.
INTERVIEWER: So they thought Hollywood films were bad influence, but–?
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, I– so I don’t know, it still is a mystery why they let me out, because my lawyers, two or three of them got sentenced. Some are very long sentences, over 10 years. And my friends, my associates, they all get either sentenced or detained without a trial, missing. And they are the most rational, peaceful person I know. And I’m much more crazy than all of them. So I have to give credit, you know, my country even let me out, even I can sit here to talk about those things, which is unthinkable. No, I never imagined I could get out while I was detained, because I was told I at least have to be sentenced over 13 years. Easy if your crime is state power. This is the high ways to crime you can commit equals anti-revolution. You know, during the whole time. They told me, Weiwei, you can, if it’s cultural revolution, you can be killed 100 times with what you have been writing. Which is true, it’s not– but you know, you can see, China has been developed, and I’m still alive and doing very well and have a show in Hershaw.
INTERVIEWER: And your base is now Berlin?
AI WEIWEI: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Spending time there.
AI WEIWEI: Spending two years there.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. So what’s it like, living in a very different society?
AI WEIWEI: I love Berlin because I don’t speak German. Not a word. In a taxi, I would tell– I have to send my boy to school and the school very simple words, it’s called a [INAUDIBLE] or something like that. So every time, my son had to correct me, because the taxi driver just refused to pull the engine, you know, he was just sitting there and he would not understand my German. And so I gave up. I said I’m not going to speak one word.
AI WEIWEI: And I think I’m very privileged not to understand the language, because it gave me so much space–
INTERVIEWER: For misunderstanding or not understanding?
AI WEIWEI: No, I don’t even care. I stay in my studio. It’s a large studio, it’s much larger than this. It could be the size of– at least 10 sizes of / It’s underground beer cellar. No Germans like underground, because they live more than half of the year, even if you live above ground, it still feels like underground, because you just simply get no sunshine there. The winter, sky gets dark around four o’clock in the evening, so that’s why now, when I see Washington D.C., you have sunshine like this, my god, this really God Bless America.
INTERVIEWER: We can quote you on that, right?
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s really, you know, you think, oh my god, this really is America first, there’s all the sun.
AI WEIWEI: And so since I don’t speak German, I have no social life. I concentrate on my work and I can do 10, 20 museum shows a year, which is beneficial.
INTERVIEWER: So let’s talk about your recent interest in the refugee crisis, because we know that you’ve focused on this. You’re also in– you’ve made a film about it. So why don’t you tell us how you kind of got interested. I mean, it is one of the largest issues in Europe currently.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, before I got my passport, I heard so much about refugee situation. So in China–
INTERVIEWER: You mean your German passport?
AI WEIWEI: No, my Chinese passport, I never had the other passport. The Chinese authority took my passport away, then they–
INTERVIEWER: They reissued a new one?
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, they gave it back to me in 2015. But before that, I heard of refugee situation, so we sent two of my colleagues to Europe, near the refugee camp. I designed the questions that, because I cannot travel, I said can we just interview them? So we interviewed over 100 refugees in Europe, just to find out who they are and why they have to stay in refugee camp, how long they will stay there, where are they trying to go? What’s the end of it? So I got a little bit of understanding about all those people. So when I had a chance to travel to Germany, Germany gave me a professorship there, so I can teach in the art school. And I have this luxury studio there. And one day, I found out there are refugees coming to Berlin, so I told my friend, I said, can you bring me to those camps, I want to meet them. She’s a volunteer, she’s a doctor. She said, she hesitated, said, why do you want to see them? I said, it’s just, I just want to see them, what they look like. So we went to this camp–
INTERVIEWER: Where was the camp?
AI WEIWEI: The real reason why I wanted to see them is when we made this question of where do you want to go, they all said Germany. I said, well why Germany, you know? I had no understanding. So a lot of curiosity. So I went to Berlin and the camps. So then I have a more– you know, once you get involved, you have more curiosity and you want to know more. You know, they’re all Syrians. And that’s almost– so by Christmas of 2015, I told my son, I said, Germany is too dark, let’s go to Lesbos, so you know, go to Greece, there’s a lot of sunshine.
So my intention was to bring them to the refugee, this island have over 500,000 Syrian refugees landed on this very little island, a most beautiful island. I should say it’s all the Greek mythology come from there and the great poets and philosophers all come from that area. So I brought my son to the refugee camp, we met real refugees. We drove on the beach and it’s so beautiful that they just, like Washington today, and the ocean is so blue, now you see a boat come. Then you see those people, when you really see them come down, you will never forgot. You know, children, women, pregnant ladies, elderly people. They climb down off those boat, rubber boat. And they look at them, so I started recording with my iPhone, because it’s– you know, you hear about a snake, it’s very different from when you really see a snake. It’s very, very different. So that’s so shocking.
So at that moment, I said, why do I need a studio in Germany, in Berlin? I should have a studio on this island so I can learn so much more and I can experience so much more. So we decided to have a studio there. I called my studio, I have a lot of assistant and I said, just move over. And then we started to do film recording. You know, I had been doing film for a long time. Mostly documentaries, just to leave some evidence, to record something you don’t understand at that moment, but later, it takes some time to digest. So we did a lot of recording, then decided to make a movie, because the topic is overwhelming, because sometimes you see 30 boats approaching you in the midnight, They always come midnight or early morning and you hear a lot of deaths. In that year, I think over two or three thousand people drowned. And you see bodies and you see graveyard.
Then it’s very hard to imagine it’s in Europe. When they come down, there’s nobody to help them. There’s absolutely nobody except the volunteers. And they live in the dark tents, wet, and it can be cold at night. No light, nobody gives them a cup of tea or something necessary to survive. I notice those people are very quiet. Their children even doesn’t cry. It’s very, very surreal picture. Almost half of them are babies. And many babies are being put on the boat, the parents are not there, because they could not pay the smugglers. So they let baby just landed or disappeared. Many, many like that.
And sometimes, certain things you really should not know. If you know it and you’re there, then it becomes a challenge, it becomes a moral challenge. I said, I have to be involved to know more. So that brought me to Turkey then bring me to Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Gaza, and Kenya, and many other locations. We visited about 40 camps, I interviewed hundreds of people, from politicians, to smugglers, to grave diggers, to all of course a lot of refugees. And our team started to go to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, all those war zone areas. So we have a film made, a film called Human Flow is going to come out in two or three months, globally distributed cinema film. And it’s my personal journey to understand this refugee issue. Also, I went to Mexico-US border, to shoot there.
INTERVIEWER: So I know today, you had a chance to meet with some of our Art Lab teens, part of our education program. And I wonder what advice you would give to young, aspiring artists today?
AI WEIWEI: In your gallery, I met a lot of beautiful kids. But very often, because my son’s in school now, he’s 10 years old, he’s in international school. Oh, he’s eight years old, I’m sorry. I really wish him can grow, grow.
INTERVIEWER: Wishful thinking.
AI WEIWEI: Yeah, I skipped two years to become 10 years old. That, I realize, he has another 15 or 20 years in school. I really think that that is really a problem, you know.
AI WEIWEI: Because as human, we really spend the most time in school. You know, most of our young’s in school–
INTERVIEWER: Well youth, yeah.
AI WEIWEI: And they all teach the same thing. And they all make you very– to tell you you can really compete and you become a real person after this study. And I really think this could be a problem, because it’s too long. I never finished my university, and forgive me say it like that, but I couldn’t. I hate campus. I hate a group of people that behave the same. I just don’t like it. I think something wrong with me. You know, but forget about it. I just told them, use the money to travel, and go to the place your parents never went. And tell them stories of what you have seen. You know, I think that’s more important. And learn a little bit of skill. Know how to cook or how to wash dishes or to make a fire or something.
INTERVIEWER: The more mundane things in life. So I think that brings us to the end of our talk together, Ai Weiwei.
AI WEIWEI: So short.
INTERVIEWER: It was an hour. We should stay on perhaps.
AI WEIWEI: OK.
INTERVIEWER: But let me ask you this as the final question then. What do you think we should all be thinking about today in terms of a key issue? I mean, so much of your work are about issues. What do you think is the issue of this moment?
AI WEIWEI: The key issue. I think we are living in a very dramatically changing time. Because of globalization, because the prosperity for past many decades, because the internet dramatically changes. It not only changes the political economic structure, but it also changes how we learn and how we get information and how we communicate. Those things, we can never imagine we can go so far and so fast, and every day it seems even more dramatic. In the political sense and in– so how to be prepared, I don’t know. I think we have to trust our intuition and always focus on humanity. I think the only answer is to recognize we are human and we have certain feelings or certain emotions which makes us as a human. And of course we have to enjoy art, because art always tells us who we are and also surprises us about who we are. So you know, you want to be very specific?
INTERVIEWER: Go on. I think we’re all wanting to hear more.
AI WEIWEI: Oh, no. A lot of time, it takes a lot of difficult moments for us to understand and to realize how precious the democracy or personal freedom is about. But sometimes it takes a very difficult struggle. I always think that freedom is from the struggle. Every individual has to protect it, otherwise the freedom is only an illusion. And that’s about how I think.
INTERVIEWER: Wow. Thank you, Ai Weiwei. You’ve given us a lot to think about tonight and we’re honored that you have joined us tonight. Thank you.