Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ai Weiwei´s fate fuels tensions forcing avant-garde to cancel film festival

Mao Tse Tung

The Chinese chill against freedom of artistic expression just got colder.
As Ai Weiwei’s whereabouts remains a mystery, tensions within the Beijing arts community mount, along with confusion.

Ai Weiwei, arrested and detained in Beijing, 3 April

On 20 April, organizers of the May 2011 China Documentary Film Festival—reacting to increased outside pressures—cancelled the event held at Songzhuang Art Village in a northeast Beijing suburb.
Reached in Beijing by phone today, ArtTraveler’s Beijing contributor, Alessandro Rolandi, said although news of the film show´s cancellation is based on rumors, you can believe them.

“It’s true,” he said.

Alessandro Rolandi
A Beijing spokesman for the Songzhuang Art Center today told ArtTraveler, “Maybe it will not happen.”
The New York Times today confirmed that event organizers, sensitive to developing events in Beijing, shuttered airing documentaries.
Li Xianting, known as the “godfather” of Chinese contemporary avant-garde art and his foundation (Li Xianting Film Fund) organize and finance the annual film exhibition.
Rolandi, who personally knows Xianting, said: “Documentaries are more sensitive (to the state) than art.”

He said Xianting “pushed China´s avant-garde onto the western world; he´s a scholar.”

“Xianting has become disconnected from contemporary art in the last four to six years,” Rolandi noted.
Instead, the art critic-scholar concentrates on documentaries.

“He´s really doing something for the people, their lives, giving people employment at his museum at the Songzhuang Art Center,” said Rolandi.

“He´s a cultural activist.”

Xianting works allot with children, arming them with small video cameras, teaching them documentary film making.

“Xianting has never been openly aggressive against the government,” Rolandi said.

The film festival´s organizers and state´s security apparatus should remember Xianting´s 2009 festival´s airing of “Petition,” which proved controversial and risked being banned in Beijing.

Those were the days of apparent cultural permissiveness.

“Petition” showed the plight of people seeking to petition the state, to complain and secure redress, and the reaction of local politicos against them.
Writing for Global Post from Beijing in May 2010, William Dowell, described audience reaction to "Petition":
“The two scenes that triggered the most applause were one in which some petitioners, sitting by an outdoor campfire, denounce corruption in the Communist Party, and another in which a petitioner attacks Beijing intellectuals for being all talk and no action.

"Formless Old Beijing Man," by Alessandro Rolandi
“Many of the people applauding were precisely those intellectuals.”
Chris Berry, a University of London professor of film and television, told Senses of Cinema in October 2009 there is a “penchant in (Chinese) documentary for going beyond films about social marginality and towards uncovering scandals.”

“This may be inspired in part by the continuing anger over the death of so many children in sub-standard schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and the failure to in investigate and assign blame,” Berry said.

Ai Weiwei has bitterly complained to authorities about this tragedy and alleged government cover-up.

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

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."

Check out a sculpture or mosaics workshop or walking tour in our beautiful mountains. See: and
"Bread Tree" by Alessandro Rolandi
Contact me at or by calling (34) 951 067 703; from the UK at BT landline rates, 0844 774 8349.

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

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