Ai Weiwei Update: 05.09.11

• Two pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have been arrested for doing Ai Weiwei graffiti there, AFP reports. The pair, who weren't named, have been released on bail, but have a June 8 hearing. Activists have been painting and projecting Ai's image, using a stencil originally created by Chin Tangerine. Via Facebook, she tells me that "things are good" and that the police effort to find her "really doesn't bother me that much." She says she's not involved with the recent projections of the Ai stencil by Cpak Ming (pictured, via ArtAsiaPacific), but she hopes to collaborate with him soon. "Ming uploaded some kind of tutorial and inspired by him, a lot of people are trying it out," she writes. "It's exhilarating."

• The China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong says it's confirmed that a new Q & A between Ai Weiwei and an "opinion channeler" -- a member the so-called 50-Cent Army, a group paid to leave pro-China comments on the internet -- is legit. The interview was conducted Mar. 22 and published May 5.

• When Hillary Clinton and Timothy Geithner are in China this week, Ai's imprisonment without charge is off the table. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai says, "I think it is advisable for the United States to pay more attention to the development of China in terms of human rights, rather than being preoccupied with individual cases."

• Nicholas Logsdail, director of London's Lisson Gallery, where an exhibition of Ai's work opens on Friday:
"In arresting Ai Weiwei, I believe [Chinese authorities] have failed to understand what it means to be an artist. They have failed to be culturally aware. He is exactly the kind of person they should have onside. He's actually much more dangerous now, under arrest, than he ever was before. I think he is a great global cultural ambassador for the new China, but this arrest is making China's new cultural revolution look rather unrevolutionary."
• Critic Jerry Salz hated Ai's installation of millions of porcelain sunflower seeds at Tate Modern, but regretting his snap judgment went back for a second look. And:
As I stood on this field of crunchy porcelain bits, I suddenly gleaned an approximation of China itself. A hundred million seeds and the huge physical field and my tiny place in it allowed me to actually sense the billion that is China. In true colonialist fashion, I was part of the millions in the West who were now walking on the billions of the East. It was an extraordinary illustration of infinity, impossibility, life, politics, proximity and individuality. Crowds happily walked on the seeds; it was like a metaphysical beach, or limbo. Kids ran around, played games or buried one another. Like many others, and in violation of the rules, I took home a handful of seeds. My wife kept pointing out gray clouds that puffed up wherever people were walking. She also pointed out that our hands and clothes were covered in the dust.

I thought nothing of it.

I should have. It turns out those clouds were the gray slip being ground off the porcelain seeds as they rubbed together underfoot. Two days later authorities shut down the piece. A notice posted on the Tate’s site reads in part: "We have been advised that the interaction of visitors with the sculpture can cause dust which could be damaging to health following repeated inhalation over a long period of time. In consequence, Tate, in consultation with the artist, has decided not to allow members of the public to walk across the sculpture." Now it can only be seen the way I saw it that first day, from above or outside. I’m saddened that you can’t see it the way I did -- but the metaphor is unmistakably powerful all the same. The coming together of these civilizations and numbers produces a toxic cloud.

• The petitions: 131,000 signatures, plus 118,000 more.

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