Friday, 19 July 2013

EARTHQUAKE - Ai Weiwei in Venice

"Accusers" from Ai Weiwei's S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013)
(Venice, Italy) Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist, was deeply affected by the Great Sichuan Earthquake that occurred on May 12, 2008, killing nearly 70,000 people. More than 5,000 of the dead were schoolchildren who died as a result of the shoddy construction of their classrooms -- part of China's economic boom. Back then, Ai Weiwei strongly criticized the Chinese government for not providing an official tally of the names and numbers of the dead schoolchildren, and set about gathering his own record.

This is from Art Asia Pacific Magazine way back in July/August 2009, detailing the censorship and harassment of Ai Weiwei and his mother -- in fact, the harassment of anyone who stuck their nose into the details of the earthquake:

Ai & the Dead Schoolchildren
The Chinese government rarely makes concessions to its citizens, especially when it involves allegations of governmental mismanagement and the actions of artist Ai Weiwei. However, the government’s unexpected announcement on May 5 that 5,335 students died in last year’s Sichuan earthquake appears to have been in response to efforts by Ai Weiwei and other Chinese activists to call the government into account for the deaths. This was the first official figure released in what has become a politically sensitive issue following accusations from parents that substandard construction caused the collapse of more than 7,000 classrooms in the region. ...

... Ai’s 76-year-old mother recently became a target of police attention as well. On May 26, four plainclothes policemen entered her home in eastern Beijing and interrogated her about Ai’s residence near the airport. She then phoned her son, who was attending a reception at the American Embassy for United States congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. After receiving her call, Ai rushed home. When the officers in his mother’s house refused to present identification, Ai dialed the emergency number 110. Additional police officers soon arrived and all parties went to the local police station to file a report, a copy of which was never provided to the artist. ...

...On the morning of May 26, a post on Ai’s blog called for volunteers with engineering and technical expertise to aid in a “construction standards investigation,” a future Sichuan earthquake-related initiative. The post suggests that the privately conducted, state-sponsored investigations have been deeply flawed. Volunteers are asked to contact FAKE Design Studio to assist with their ongoing inquiry into the collapsed schools’ structural integrity.

Click to read the entire 2009 Art Asia Pacific Magazine article by Katherine Grube, which was written four years ago:  

Ai Weiwei Challenges China’s Government Over Earthquake

Ai Weiwei STRAIGHT (2008-2012)
Fast-forward to the Venice Biennale in 2013 where Ai Weiwei has two collateral events that together make up an installation entitled DISPOSITION (in addition to his BANG, the German contribution in the French Pavilion). One event is called STRAIGHT over at the new Zuecca Project Space on Giudecca close to the Zitelle vaporetto stop, and was directly inspired by the earthquake. Ai Weiwei and his team have straightened by hand 150 tons of crumpled, bent steel rebar that was recovered from the collapsed classrooms and brought it here to Venice. The space is filled with undulating rebar that once supported the classrooms. It is a moving memorial to the dead schoolchildren, made even more poignant when we remember that Ai Weiwei was arrested on April 2, 2011 at the Beijing airport as he was about to board a flight for Hong Kong. The labor continued while Ai Weiwei was incarcerated, the workers hammering out by hand every single rebar, straightening the twisted steel into something soulful. A video at the installation details the saga, including the citizen's investigation into the faulty construction.

Ai Weiwei STRAIGHT (2008-2012)
The second part of DISPOSITION is called S.A.C.R.E.D. and is at the Church of Sant' Antonin. The pews have been taken out of the church, replaced by six black, weighty two-and-a-half-ton iron boxes. Inside each box is a different scene of Ai's forced captivity after he was taken into custody on April 2, 2011 by the Chinese authorities. We, the viewers, stand on a step and peer inside the box, observing Ai Weiwei under surveillance. The six dioramas are:


S.A.C.R.E.D. by Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei was not here in Venice for his openings because the Chinese government has taken his passport away, so his 82-year-old mother, Gao Ying, came instead. (Perhaps the American Edward Snowden, who is also without a passport, should consider changing careers while he's at the airport in Russia -- he could create a magnificent art project inspired by his exile.) I thought how fortunate Ai Weiwei was to have a mother who supported him in his struggles against a corrupt government instead of a mother like my own, the soon-to-be-80-year-old Dorothy Wydock, who actively works with corrupt officials inside the United States government to destroy her own daughter.


Ai Weiwei's mother Gao Ying, turned up to the opening of his new exhibit in Venice, this morning. Gao, who's in her early eighties attended in lieu of her son who the Chinese authorities refuse to allow to travel. She has been one of her son's most vocal supporters and has accused officials of hounding her son, describing their approach as "creepy, crooked and evil".

Ai Weiwei's mother Gao Ying views her son's artwork S.A.C.R.E.D - photo by Marguerite Horner
One of the definitions of "disposition" is c (1) : transfer to the care or possession of another (2) : the power of such transferal. Speaking as someone who was not only without my US passport for nearly four years, who the United States government tried to illegally rendition right out of Italy, who was under surveillance, and who was forcibly hospitalized against my will, I found Ai Weiwei's S.A.C.R.E.D. deeply moving. It is as if certain people who work for the government -- no matter what nation, no matter what system  -- have lost their humanity and are fascinated to the point of obsession about the behavior of those who have maintained their ability to empathize. Hence, the constant surveillance, cyber and otherwise. Those who have lost their humanity observe real human beings like they are watching animals in a zoo.

In Ai Weiwei's case, there were two government workers who had him under constant observation, up close and personal, even in the toilet, even while he slept, for 81 days. What kind of people would perform such a job? Since I actually know several of the people involved in my own case, I can state that there is something seriously lacking in their core -- perhaps governments deliberately screen out people capable of compassion. Perhaps human beings like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning slip through the cracks because of their youth, high intelligence and cyber skills -- skills that require a soul, like artists -- skills the governments cannot imagine nor ever reproduce. 

"Doubt" from Ai Weiwei's S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013)
According to the May 28, 2013 The Independent, Ai sneaked the art work out of China:

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei has secretly spent 18 months creating six sculptures of the 81 days he spent in detention in China for “tax evasion” in 2011 and has shipped them out of the country. The six works, entitled S.A.C.R.E.D, have gone on display at the Venice Biennale. Ai Weiwei has declined to say how he managed to sneak the artwork out of China. Six shoulder-high iron boxes went on display in the nave of Venice’s Church of Saint’Antonin today. Within each box is a viewing slit revealing scenes of the artist held in detention by Chinese officials.

"Entropy" (Sleep) from Ai Weiwei's S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013)
Ai Weiwei spent 81 days in confinement, under constant observation by the Chinese government for "tax evasion." Bradley Manning spent 1,101 days in confinement, under constant observation by the United States government, and is now on trial, charged with 21 crimes, including aiding the enemy, espionage, stealing government property, and “wanton publication,” which, according to the Daily Beast, "could leave the 25-year-old facing life plus 149 years in a military prison if convicted."  As I write this, Edward Snowden is still stuck at the airport in Moscow. (Now I understand why the US State Department's presence here in Venice is at the Marco Polo airport:) Is one government better or worse than the other? I will confess that I really believed that the United States was of a higher caliber, and that I am shocked, to this day, to know by direct, personal experience that we are not.

"Supper" from Ai Weiwei's S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013)
 Former two-time Senator Gordon Humphrey recently voiced his support for Edward Snowden:
...Americans concerned about the growing arrogance of our government and its increasingly menacing nature should be working to help Mr. Snowden find asylum. Former Members of Congress, especially, should step forward and speak out.
Gordon Humphrey
 "Growing arrogance." "Menacing nature."  Those are very strong words, and from my own personal experience with the US government, I completely concur. China also used a word that I liked: "sanctimonious."

China’s state newspaper, The People’s Daily, wrote: “The United States has gone from a model of human rights to an eavesdropper on personal privacy, the manipulator of the centralized power over the international internet, and the mad invader of other countries’ networks.  . .  The world will remember Edward Snowden. It was his fearlessness that tore off Washington’s sanctimonious mask.”

"Ritual" from Ai Weiwei's S.A.C.R.E.D (2011-2013)

What the United States of America did to me, one of its own citizens, is an outrage. The actual individuals who broke the law are no better than common thugs. That they hide behind a "sanctimonious mask" in an attempt to disguise their criminal behavior thoroughly disgusts me. As I wrote in my September 5, 2012 letter to Kyle R. Scott, the U.S. Consul General in Milan, I expect nine million euros and apology to correct the situation. An excerpt:

"Because of my good character and hard work, I have earned access to people and venues denied to many foreigners. The United States of America should be honored to have an American such as myself represent our country abroad. Instead, you have attempted to assassinate my character, illegally rendition me back to the USA and have me institutionalized. You have stolen years from my life, not to mention the physical, emotional and mental damage that you intentionally inflicted. You have interfered in the lives of innocent civilians both here in Italy and in the USA. You have spent a fortune in time, energy and money trying to destroy me. It is an outrage. By such behavior, it is clear that your intentions here in Italy are far from honorable. The United States has no right to criticize one single country on this planet until you clean up this mess. Nine million euros and an apology is a bargain."

"Cleansing" from S.A.C.R.E.D. by Ai Weiwei (2011-2013)
A. Daniel Weygandt, the former US Consul General in Milan, once gave me a great compliment. He said,  "Cat, you'll never be a diplomatic, but you sure look good."

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog


  1. A. Daniel Weygandt, the former US Consul General in Milan, once gave me a great compliment. He said, "Cat, you'll never be a diplomatic, but you sure look good."

    1. Cat,
      I do not understand how Weygandt's statement backs up your argument.
      Tom Buchan

    2. First, Weygandt should not be making remarks like that to an American civilian, especially when he was directly involved in expanding the US military base in Vicenza, and especially considering the outrageous interference in my personal life by the US government.

      It is a great compliment because my idea of a diplomat is utterly different than his.

      Since when did it become a crime to NOT want to work with the US government? Because I don't want to play with them, they throw me out of my home, defame my character and try to illegally rendition to the USA and have me institutionalized???!!!!! Um... I think that is a bit of an over-reaction, not to mention completely, totally illegal in every civilized country on this planet.

      And, excuse me, what was Ai Weiwei doing hanging out at the American embassy with Nancy Pelosi? There is something not right about that woman.

      I repeat: the USA has no right to criticize a single country on this planet as long as my situation remains unresolved. They must apologize and pay me, or kill me.

  2. J'ai adoré cette expo et la chiesa est superbe.
    Beaucoup de questionnement et d'émotions dans le présent et par le passé!
    Martina di sclos