Monday, May 9, 2011

Ai Weiwei: The west fails perceiving Chinese paradigm, provide and enrich

"Formless Old Beijing Man," Alessandro Rolandi

“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Friedrich Nietzsche
German philosopher (1844 - 1900)
Beijing avant-garde artist, lecturer, film maker, and experimental theatre director Alessandro Rolandi tries to understand what´s happening in China over disappearances of Ai Weiwei and other political non-conformists.

The panorama of recent happenings suggests a paranoid security system spastically closing and opening its grip.

This is nothing new for China.
It´s part of the country´s growing pains, anticipating democracy in about 10 years, according to experts within China. 

Rolandi says:

“Some experienced Sinologists say it is very typical of this kind of country to undergo phases of great openness alternating with others of locking up again.

“Before the Olympics, several years of open times became normal, but on the way to the Olympic Games, China had to prove many things; then, as they got closer to the games, they started to reverse the process.”

Recent events create a conundrum, especially for the west.

The prominent statue of Confucius disappeared from Tiananmen Square three weeks after Weiwei vanished. Was this because the great philospher criticized trade and markets?

I heard around that some artists have gone to their hometowns, out of Beijing for a while, or are traveling south and west. They don´t want to come back before autumn.

The artists, however, stay calm.

An Age of Enlightenment?
Ai Weiwei

An Age of Enlightenment exhibition in Beijing continues poorly attended to the chagrin of its German sponsors, about 200 daily viewers, a mirrored reflection of the times?

Small police cabins and new spherical 360 degree cameras are popping up in Beijing these days like mushrooms, magnifying police presence at almost every street corner.

Concurrently, the state announces plans opening three experimental theatres in Beijing.
A San Francisco-based artist´s group continues operating unfettered in the capital. The art scene remains lively, Rolandi adds.

China plans building a contemporary modern art museum near the Bird´s Nest that Weiwei co-designed, and last week hired New York´s Lincoln Center as lead consultant under a three-year deal for an undisclosed sum.

What does all this mean?

Untitled by Alessandro Rolandi

By Alessandro Rolandi

I try to make sense of the whole Chinese puzzle, and I realize it´s not just about China. It is something else, bigger, not a conspiracy, just a matter of fact.

It is about the value of culture and humanism getting lost, getting manipulated, distorted, proved useless and obsolete, unworthy.

My deep feeling is that China along with the United States and other western powers are also playing a side game. 

Alessandro Rolandi
Weiwei, the witty artist, the admired scholar, the human rights activist, becomes a new pawn, another instrument for antagonists and protagonists to wield as a weapon in a diplomatic duel.

The current international economic situation does not need a China with uprisings, seeing what is happening elsewhere.

There are growing and sinister signals from around the world:  

The type of control and propaganda are different, in different countries, yet it´s possible that they could end up having similar outcomes in terms of censorship, economic priorities and the practical effects these have on people´s lives in all fields, including freedom of expression.

United States and China--abstract concepts

Thank God America and China are abstract concepts.

We cannot read today´s China using criteria we used for “communism” as perceived after WWII.

To do this would be a big mistake. The state is similar to a large multi-national corporation.

China has not yet learned the art of exercising soft power, but it has the largest and most efficient security and information system in the world.

China´s main concern remains feeding and enriching its people and maintaining stability.
"Bread Tree" by Alessandro Rolandi

In fact, the government is giving out bonuses to some farmers and others in agriculture in very poor areas to release social tension.

For the same reason they try to stop inflation and speculation. You cannot buy but one house in Beijing right now, and even for the car and plate you need to wait.They are trying to reduce the abnormal number of 1,000 new cars on the road per day.

Ai Weiwei found himself at the crossroads of time and space on the diplomatic chessboard, and for good or for bad, the Chinese will go through history with their own mistakes and their own actions.

Wewei´s arrest and detention triggered a caustic international and philosophical debate.

The international artistic community sincerely and passionately supports him, but for the United States, Wewei and human rights are also a political instrument to challenge China in a tense diplomatic battle that has gone on for some time.
"Post It," wall-writing and lights, Alessandro Rolandi, Beijing 18 April 2011
Some recent events at play include China constantly changing the list of territories claimed as ancestral belongings (Japan and Vietnam have repeatedly expressed concern about Chinese policy in this sense.).

Also,the way President Obama was treated during his last visit, when he was prevented from giving a lecture and meeting students and the public.

I sincerely hope this current war of words will not go too far because the feeling is that nobody will back down. 

Hillary Clinton just visited Beijing with a special delegation to specifically discuss the human rights issue.

Now America and China getting together discussing human rights really sounds a bit like a joke although it is important that at least this happens.

Future of contemporary Chinese art at stake

The future of contemporary Chinese art is at risk.

In Ai Weiwei´s case, something had to happen. The situation had become openly aggressive.

In China, it does not matter too much if dissent comes from art or from the artist. For the authorities, it should be avoided and that´s all.
Ai Weiwei in Turbine Room, Tate Modern

Oddly, the Chinese government and the western media helped create Weiwei as an international celebrity; they created this profile of a person talking with very important people most of the time.

What happened to Weiwei and others, however, is not the only reality of every day life here.

I just read that three new experimental theaters, small independent ones, are emerging in Beijing, each with a generous government grant.  And the first thing always censored in any regime throughout history is experimental theatre.

So what kind of experimental theatre will these theatres host?

Mind your own business, not politics 

Mind your own business, don´t mind politics. That´s what most Chinese believe.

Right now, the poor people and middle-class on the mainland know very little about Weiwei and contemporary art.

They are not touched by it; they don´t see how they could be. People hope their sons and daughters become successful and rich.

Human rights are not a priority.
Mao Tse Tung

Who cares about freedom of expression when you can improve your quality of life and make allot of money?

Even those who care about Weiwei consider it a private Chinese matter.

Many highly educated, pragmatic people think of him as someone who stops growth of the great China and who throws dirt on the image of the new empire rising.

To them he is a trouble maker who does not make sense now that the country can do “wonderful things.”

Yet his message is in the air already. 

He gave voice of the silent frustrastion underneath the surface of Chinese society, and he anticipated the worries of those Chinese experts whose projections say that in 10 years, China will have to deal with a major political change.

A young, educated Chinese said he and his friends are angry about the Weiwei debate. Some almost showed contempt for it.

My friend also said we need to take into account the fact that Chinese people, when asked about this by westerners, tend to become suspicious and feel vulnerable.
Many Chinese probably understand his messasge in their heart, but they have to deal with their lives and survive day by day in a very fast and competitive society. International fame and high-profile political intrigues have little impact on their problems.

Nobody knows what will happen, but as some sort of multi-layer coincidence, rumors indicate Ai Weiwei will probably be charged with economic crimes, the most common charge when it comes to power games.

Alessandro Rolandi, age 40, is artist in residence at Harrow International School, Beijing since 2003, teaching art and experimental theatre. 

He has taught or lectured in eight art schools, including Institut d´Edudes Politques 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 23 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 (TM)

Come to Andalusia for a walking holiday or week-long sculpture or mosaics workshop; see: and

"Resting on a Cloud," photograph by Stefan van Drake (2010)
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