Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Beijing avant-garde open provocative show in wake of Ai Weiwei´s arrest

UPDATE 20 APRIL FROM BEIJING: Chinese organizers cancel the May 2011 China Documentary Film Festival in Songzhuan Art Village in east Beijing. 

“They cannot let anything happen if they don´t understand it.” Ai Weiwei, interview with BBC on 6 Nov. 2010 while under house arrest.

“The lives of artists are more fragile than their creations,” Salman Rushdie, 19 April in the New York Times.

"Post It," wall-writing and lights, Alessandro Rolandi, Beijing 18 April 2011

On 17 - 18 April in Beijing, a few avant-garde artists symbolically tried to cope with China´s chilling repression centering around Ai Weiwei´s 3 April arrest and disappearance.

It appears artist-lecturer Alessandro Rolandi´s wall-writing with lights, "Post-It" at the downtown Beijing Za Jai Art Space, mirrored the state´s message: “Be Have!"

As usual, though, the Italian artist and lecturer may have had other ideas.

Rolandi helped inauguarate the new multi-media Za Jai´s Art Space owned by friend and fellow Italian, Ambra Corinti. 

Artists and friends warmed themselves in the street next to the gallery, roasting a lamb on an open fire.

The new gallery is located in a former Taoist temple in downtown Beijing adjacent a police station, close to a military unit.

Although the police arrived and shut down the street party for safety reasons, the art remained undisturbed.

Rolandi and Corinti said you feel the “tension and confusion here."

“We´ll see if things go smoothly,” Rolandi added.

In China, it´s dissent, not the art that offends

Or so it seems so far.
Still under wraps, detained and disappeared: Social activist and artist Ai Weiwei.

China´s current chill continues as autocratic paranoia and propoganda gain traction. 

The state´s security apparatus says Weiwei likely committed economic, obscenity and bigamy offenses.

After all, if they disappeared the artist, he must be guilty of something, right?

“Of course, disappearing is awful and China still provides this unique thrill,” Beijing-based Rolandi said.

These and associated Chinese paranoid-schizophrenic political spasms reflect a government fearful of a Twitter uprising similar to Egypt´s or Tunisia´s.

Autocratic regimes recoil with fear, especially China with its 1989 debacle, still sensitive scar tissue.

China´s response spirals into paranoia and reactionary misconduct.

There´s no evidence Weiwei sought a Twitter-inspired “Jasmine Revolution.”

Weiwei´s sister, Gao Ge, told the Australian magazine 19 April that her brother was not an activist but “an artist only.” 

Vincent van Gogh defined an artist as “a creature with feelings.” Ai Weiwei´s pathos and ethos easily find comfort within those words.

Gao shared parts of a 1978 letter from her brother: 

“What is deeply imprinted on my mind is: on the smokingly dried land the slim and weak child carried heavy firewood; this zigzag footprints left in the cold wind and the blind nights; the sound of smashing furniture and people begging for mercy; the cat being hanged ´till it was dead and mudfish heads reaching out from the pond; the bullying and cursing in front of people.

“We were so young and we had to bear all the crimes.”

Gao said she is convinced China´s oligarchy, regardless of global backlash, is determined to expose Weiwei as a “public enemy for unforgiveable sins.”

Chinese authorities over-reacted. 

Nothing new, spastic politics.

It´s simply what they do under their schizoid scheme of permissive capitalism, encouraging wanton western ways while smashing dissent, using any pretext to preserve the vertical order in a horizontal society.

The U.S. & China´s shared image: ´Sinister, corporate-fascist´ 

Artist and lecturer Alessandro Rolandi

Some things you must accept as unexplainable, says ArtTraveler´s Beijing contributor Rolandi, who has lived and worked in Beijing since 2003.

In his exclusive report to Art Traveler, he said:  

“Opposites not only touch each other, they eventually become each other.”

Even though Chinese authorities remain hyper-vigilant, it´s not art but dissent they´re aiming to quell.

Rolandi cautions that westerners too often rely on clichés when viewing the Chinese people.

Rolandi also rejects the label, “arts activist.”

 “I´m too lazy for that and too much a loner. I´m a “waldganger,” an outsider who uses art as an insight instrument for education and social criticism.”

“For me, artists or thinkers should help people to open their minds, not to find a target for complaint,” Rolandi said.

“A temptation is not necessarily an opportunity. If somebody decides to go against the wall because he somehow can, at least for awhile, it does not mean that for everybody else, going against the wall is a good idea,” he added.

“I find the idea of reading today´s China with the criteria we used for Communism as it was perceived after WW II, would be a big mistake.
“China and the United States, while very different from each other, shares a sinister, corporate-fascist image in which the type of control and propaganda are different.

“Yet they somehow could end up having similar outcomes in terms of censorship, economic priorities and practical effects on people´s lives in all fields, especially freedom of expression.”

China fails to apply art of ´soft power´

Rolandi believes China has yet to master the art of soft power.

Asian democracies, even South Korea, he opined, retain a sort of military education matrix, very strict traditional social systems…society works from a kind of military blue-print.”

Ignore the labels; examine the facts and their sources as well as how we see other cultures through our own prisms.

Rolandi criticized western media´s misplaced attention: 

“The media in the west function like a whole series of mirrors reflecting thousands of images like a kaleidoscope.

“This not conceptually different from what China does with all its face and appearances and deceptions: It is a game of face, faceda, mirrors, reflections.
“The situation is different, the operational procedures differ but the goals and outcomes…are they different?” 

Meanwhile, much of the western world decries artist-dissident Weiwei´s disappearance and detention. 

Amnesty International and the German government, which sponsors “The Art of the Enlightenment,” exhibition in Beijing are not thrilled about developments.

Their show, which opened 1 April, reports dismal numbers, about 200 viewers daily in the Chinese National Museum, Beijing.

Some German arts functionaries wanted to remove the German part of the show as protest. The government wisely rejected this.

Artists in Bangkok organized a “Celebration of Freedom & Artistic Expression from 18 – 20 March, protesting imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo, who signed “Charter 08 Manifesto.”

Concurrently, Tate Modern hosts until 2 May Weiwei´s “Sunflower Seeds Unilever Series” installation in its Turbine Hall.

So far, more than 75,000 people have protested on Weiwei´s Twitter account, demanding he be released immediately.

An online call for Sunday (17 April) protests in major Chinese cities triggered widespread arrests, especially members of the Shouwang Church for unlawful assembly.

"Be Have!" is Alessandro Rolandi´s wall-writing with lights, titled: "Post-It"

Alessandro Rolandi, age 41, is artist in residence at Harrow International School, Beijing since 2003, teaching art and experimental theatre. He has taught or lectured in eight schools, including Institut d´Edudes de Paris. He is also a film maker, actor, theatre director and author. Rolandi, born in Pavia, Italy, has staged 12 solo exhibitions and participated in 24 group shows.His mission:

"I observe, borrow, change and document reality to create possibilities that challenge our current socio-political structures and point out the effects they have on our daily life and on our scheme of thought."

Rock on and practice peace and love.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler™

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"Sierra Sky," photograph by Stefan van Drake (2009)

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Note: Since Alessandro Rolandi´s first contribution to my blog, Chinese authorities have banned it.