Near the start of the tremendous DVD documentary AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (Madman), the eponymous Chinese dissident artist says he considers himself “more of a chess player. My opponent makes a move, I make a move.” The authorities put surveillance cameras outside Ai’s Beijing studio; Ai makes surveillance camera sculptures. They film him; he films them filming him. They suppress investigations into the death of thousands of students in the Sichuan earthquake because of shoddy building standards; he investigates it himself and makes a magnificently moving collage by cladding the front wall of a Munich museum with 9000 children’s backpacks representing those of lost students; and on and on. The authorities are a formidable opponent, beating Ai, imprisoning him, banning him from his beloved tool Twitter and from overseas travel, razing to the ground his newly built Shanghai studio; but Ai is resilient, his combination of the courageously confrontational and the playful epitomised by the middle finger raised towards Tiananmen Square on the DVD’s cover. Marina Abramovic: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (Madman) captures another artist giving it her all, this time during a 40-year career as an endurance artist as much as a performance one, whether lying within a burning wooden star (and eventually fainting from lack of oxygen), cutting a pentogram on her stomach with a razor blade, flailing her own back with a cat-o’-nine-tails or walking the length of the Great Wall of China. You might expect Abramovic to be a wreck after all this, but the 63-year-old looks at least 20 years younger, an Amazonian beauty who, as one of her exes says, “seduces everyone she meets”, not least the viewer of this documentary that follows her during a retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (Moma). She’ll still go to great lengths for her art, psychologically as well as physically at Moma, sitting motionless, seven hours a day, six days a week, one on one and eyeball to eyeball with a succession of exhibition-goers.
A new literary journal. We like literary journals. SIGNALS (with a nifty design by Sarah Laing) features poetry and prose from Year 11-13 students from the young writers’ programme of the Michael King Writers’ Centre in Auckland. As a poem by Madeleine Ballard has it, “go down to the river at dusk, my friends,/ and dare yourselves, clothed, to jump in;/ the water is cool and the sky is high/and a million kisses to your skin”.
It’s a measure of this column’s belief in the fundraising album SONGS FOR CHRISTCHURCH (Southbound) as a whole that it’s willing to lift its blanket ban on anything involving Fat Freddy’s Drop and the Black Seeds and point you instead to other contributors to the compilation, such as Flight of the Conchords, Tim Finn, the Eastern and Delaney Davidson. Beneficiaries of the album are community projects such as Gap Filler, some of whose work is in the book CHRISTCHURCH: THE TRANSITIONAL CITY PT IV (Freerange Press , a photographic record of many of the innovative projects the city has seen since the February 2011 earthquake, accompanied by stats for them. The latter – “How long did it take to organise?”, “How long did it last for?”, “How much did it cost?” – can be inspirational: it’s amazing the impact you can have for a few hundred dollars.
The MIKE AND VIRGINIA of Kathryn Burnett and Nick Ward’s play are film studies lecturers, so know a thing or two about genres and their conventions, as do Burnett and Ward, who explore and subvert those of the romantic comedy in this, yes, romantic comedy. Circa Two, Wellington, March 23-April 20.
Any excuse for a Jeffrey Harris painting, and this is a great one: Family Group (1975-2012), 37 years in the making, is now – finally – on show with three smaller works in JEFFREY HARRIS: FAMILY. Hurry and you can still catch it. Not that he was in a hurry to complete it, but it was worth the wait. Brett McDowell Gallery, Dunedin, until April 4.