Sunday, March 9, 2014

Never Retreat, Retweet: Going all the Weiwei

by Drew Martin
I just finished watching a documentary about Ai Weiwei called, Ai Weiwei, Never Sorry. His saying, Never Retreat, Retweet references his communication through and popularity on Twitter. He turned to Twitter after the Chinese government shut down his popular blog, which he used to investigate and document the death of thousands of school children crushed by poorly built schools ("tofu" construction) that collapsed in a 2008 earthquake. This documentary reflects on his New York years (1981-1993) and takes us through his detention in China in 2011. Weiwei plays the role of the artist dissident like others more famously before him, including Václav Havel. And while he seems a bit secondhand when he says he is more like a chess player than an artist (an obvious rehash of Duchamp's conclusion) the documentary acknowledges such creative influences but also drives home that he has the skills to make all the work he hands off to his assistants. One helper says his studio role is like that of an assassin: he is told to execute something and he does it as an extra set of Weiwei hands. While this film is a promotional biography about Weiwei, and I would have appreciated a more critical voice, the peppered presence of Evan Osnos, China correspondent for The New Yorker, offers a deeper probe of journalism. He pokes the married Weiwei about his out-of-wedlock son (but does not get very far), and comments that while Weiwei safely watched (from the US) the deadly protests of Tiananmen Square in 1989, he was even more influenced by the televised Congressional hearings to investigate the Iran–Contra affair, especially that such an internal government case was made public.