Ai Weiwei has been less vocal since he emerged almost a year ago from 80 days’ detention. But he has not fallen silent.
He cannot travel out of Beijing while his tax dispute with authorities (it was over a tax bill that he was arrested, though it is generally believed that his real offence was speaking out against the state) remains unresolved.
So the latest work by this doyen of online dissidence, the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London, a collaboration with the architects Herzog & de Meuron – with whom he also worked on the acclaimed Beijing Birds’ Nest Olympic stadium – was designed largely over Skype.
Herzog & de Meuron are old friends, and we were asked if we were interested and we started the whole project. We all know the nature of my situation – I can’t really travel. So we took several Skype sessions to come up with the concepts.
Using Skype is lovely. I think all projects should be done with Skype. You only have to communicate the spiritual part. This is a new definition of this pavilion, which is very different. The pavilion concept is about memory and questioning. It’s to offer something the public will hopefully enjoy at this moment, there with the Olympics.
Ai has meanwhile hosted – in the flesh – to his Beijing residence Slate editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg, a couple of video clips from which have been posted online.
Is Twitter (which is officially banned in China) part of your art, asks Weisberg.
Ai replies: “I think Twitter is my art in language version.”
As for the authorities’ reasons for trying to muzzle him – “I feel that what makes them most frightened is my international profile – my interviews with western media,” says Weiwei. In an interview with a part of the western media.
“My sense,” says Weisberg, “is that they’re most worried about people online who can mobilise people offline.”
Ai: “That’s me.”