Ai Weiwei Update: 05.31.11

• As Ai Weiwei's detention continues -- he's now been in Chinese police custody for nearly 59 days -- activists continue turning their protests from the tone-deaf Chinese authorities to the western art museums and galleries that are still engaging with the country's art scene. A new web bookmarklet created by F.A.T. let's you superimpose the central image from Ai's series "Study in Perspective" -- in which he photographed himself flipping the bird to seats of political power in China and elsewhere -- onto websites of your chosing. Some, naturally, are targeting museum sites, like that of the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is taking a show of Chinese art, yet remains silent about the imprisonment of that country's most famous artist.

• Also from F.A.T. -- that's Free Art Technology -- the China Blocker, a web browser extension that inverts China's internal web censorship by blocking out all Chinese sites from your browser while web surfing.

• When the exhibition The Emperor’s Private Paradise opens in Milwaukee next week, artist Mike Brenner will be there to protest. He'll be publicly shaving his head to look like Ai and invites others to do the same. He's not the only artist with Milwaukee's ties who'll be protesting the museum's showing of the work.

Hari Kunzru in The Guardian:
Ai's detention is, among other things, a watershed moment for the international art world, the equivalent of the moral tests so badly flunked by technology companies like Cisco and Yahoo when faced with the dizzying financial vistas of the Chinese market. Notoriously fond of adopting radical postures, and notoriously shy of turning down money, players in the business of contemporary art – gallerists, collectors, curators, auctioneers and fellow artists – must now decide what risks (if any) they are prepared to take in defence of one of their own. In the US, the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is about to host a "Summer of China" in collaboration with the Palace Museum in Beijing, has become a focus for discussion about what role museums can or should play in the debate about artistic censorship and human rights.
• China now says it wants back works by Ai that were the center of protests in San Diego. Tyler Green reports that Chinese authorities want the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego to return their recently acquired Marble Chairs (2010). While the pieces were part of the museum's 24-hour protest of Ai's detention, the call for the pieces' return goes back to last fall. China is challenging the export license the museum used to ship the pieces, but MCASD director Hugh Davies says "until compelled by the authorities to return the chairs, we have no intention of doing so."

• The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), home to The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army, a major exhibition of archaeological works presented in collaboration with the People’s Republic of China, doesn't "do" politics. Says museum flak Sabrina Merceron: "We don’t do any politics, we just support art as this is the mission of a museum. It’s very important that you make the distinction as one can perfectly cohabitate with the other.”

• Join the nearly 130,000 other people who have signed this petition calling for a western art-world boycott of China.


Ai Weiwei Update: 05.25.11

Nemesis-Ai Weiwei: The Elusiveness of Being, guerrilla projection, Geandy Pavo, May 20, 2011, NYC

• Nearly two months after he was first taken by police, Ai Weiwei has finally been officially charged. A report on New China News Agency on Friday, which was quickly removed, said Ai's Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. had "intentionally destroyed accounting records" and evaded "huge amounts" of taxes. Despite the fact that Ai's whereabouts went unacknowledged by police for days after taken into police custody and the fact that his wife was only allowed to visit him for the first time early last week, China claims Ai was "legally placed under supervised residence" and that "authorities have protected his rights to family visits." He remains in lockup.

• As noted here last week, Ai's wife, Lu Qing, has already addressed the tax evasion issue: "He's not the company's legally-designated representative, nor is he the chief executive. So even if the company is accused of these crimes, Ai Weiwei should not be detained."

• Chinese lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, one of a dwindling number of people who still speak out on Twitter about sensitive issues, has problems with the Chinese case against Ai, including their claim that they never targeted Ai for his controversial art activities.

• Ai's detention has sparked creative responses from artists worldwide. The latest follows in the footsteps of both Cpak Ming, who projected an image from an Ai stencil on the wall of Hong Kong's People's Liberation Army barracks, and Krzysztof Wodiczk, who has made politically incisive art by projecting images on monuments and government buildings worldwide. Cuban artist Geandy Pavon has projected a photo of Ai's face on the exterior of the Chinese Consulate in New York (here's video).

Pavon tells Hyperallergic that he created the image by filmed an image of Ai's face reflected in sunflower oil (a referene to Ai's sunflower seed installation at Tate Modern). Born in Cuba but forced to leave for his political views, Geandy sees a parallel between Ai and Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata: "Ai Weiwei is a victim of the same system as Zapata. When I projected Ai weiwei’s face, I projected all the people who have suffered, who have gone through the same thing. I think a victim is always a mirror of other victims."

Read recent Ai Weiwei Updates.


Northeast Minneapolis mural: Broken Crow + Over Under

Two years after they collaborated on a mural at Shuga Records, Twin Cities artists Broken Crow (Mike FitzSimmons and John Grider) and Brooklyn-based Over Under (Erik Burke) again team up for a piece in Northeast Minneapolis, this time just three blocks away. The piece, located behind the 331 Club and Modern Cafe on 13th Avenue, has familiar themes: houses (seen in the Shuga mural, Over Under's recent St. Paul piece, and a few Broken Crow works), stencil animals, and human anatomy (the arms bring to mind Burke's recent collaboration with Seattle's No Touching Ground, which featured a wheatpasted reproduction of Burke's own notebook tattoo). It seems to continue Broken Crow's recent divergence, away from images of static animals (think: the billygoat on the former Salon Stella six or so blocks away on Lowry Avenue) to more active, or less animal-centric, pieces (think: carnivorous penguins).

See more of the shots of the mural here, and don't miss the opening of the exhibition Over Under -- Building on Building Saturday night, May 28, at XYandZ Gallery in South Minneapolis.

And here's the time-lapse of the making of the mural.


Ai Weiwei Update: 05.20.11

NYC wheatpaste poster spotted by Jason Andrew, via Hyperallergic

• China's state-run media says Ai Weiwei, in police custody for 47 days and counting, evaded taxes, a claim his family says is bogus. Ai's wife, Lu Qing, says Ai's not even "the company's legally-designated representative, nor is he the chief executive." Lu has been told that her husband is "under residential surveillance" and that he still hasn't been formally charged.

• It's clear that petitions, condemnation of China by global diplomats and street-art campaigns won't sway China to release Ai. So many voices are now calling for an art-world boycott against the country. A petition at Avaaz.org -- which now has nearly 127,000 signatures -- suggests there's some interest in such a move, but a big question is whether galleries and institutions follow? Early indications aren't promising.

• London's Lisson Gallery, which has an Ai Weiwei show up now, won't back out of the Hong Kong art fair. In a release it stated why:
ART HK is an important international art fair that takes place in a special administrative region of China with its own democratic process, greater freedom of press and an independent judiciary. Hong Kong is a gateway to the entire Asian region, not just China, and its ART HK fair, auction houses and galleries represent the plurality of Asian voices and identities.

At this stage we feel that we can do more for Ai Weiwei by being present at the fair. By continuing to show his work we build new audiences for it and draw attention to his plight. We also wish to show our support for those people in Hong Kong who have come out on to the streets to protest in greater numbers than in any city in the West. To withdraw from ART HK and not show work by the artist would make us complicit in the authorities’ attempt to silence him and his supporters.
• London art blog Cathedral of Shit applauds Lisson for the explanation, but says the issue is more "complex":
...This isn’t a problem if you haven’t got an issue with China’s human rights abuses – and plenty of commercial galleries haven’t. Peculiarly, it’s more of a problem for those galleries who have, to their credit, gone on the record as disagreeing with China’s human rights record and in particular, the imprisonment of Ai Wei Wei. Which goes to prove, it’s not easy having a moral compass and working in the commercial art world – good luck to those, such as the Lisson, who seem to.
• The Art Newspaper notes that Lisson is joined by galleries like neugerriemschneider in Berlin (which is now showing Ai's work), Swiss dealer Urs Meile, and others in exhibiting at Art HK.

Yesterday, Modern Art Notes' Tyler Green asked, "Is it appropriate for an American art museum [and specifically the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which plans to show its collection at the Palace Museum in Beijing] to be engaged in this kind of transaction with the Chinese when the Chinese have demonstrated their hostility to — and fear of — their country’s most internationally prominent artist?

• Via Artnet.com, German curator Roger Buergel, who brought Ai to Documenta in 2007, has this explanation for the "enormous passivity" of the western art world over Ai's plight: "[M]ost of them are glad to be rid of Ai Weiwei." Says Buergel: "Ai Weiwei is in the right. His arrest is a political crime. That's also why it's so important that the West protests. Yet our artists are obviously lacking in their sense of historical awareness."

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel critic Mary Louise Schumacher asks whether the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is showing a traveling exhibition of Chinese art, The Emperor’s Private Paradise, this summer, should protest Ai's captivity. She writes that the museum has been silent on the issue. Museum director Dan Keegan offered this flaccid defense: “The political situation is extremely complex and the Museum is sensitive to the discussion that Ai Weiwei’s detention has created and we are obviously concerned for his well being. To that point, I think that our ‘Summer of China’ can play a role in expanding understanding and forwarding the dialogue between cultures.”

• Kudos to those in the art world -- from institutions like Dia and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which yesterday hosted a 24-hour protest, to artists worldwide, including just yesterday, Damien Hirst -- who have gone where Keegan won't. A measure of the lack of optimism about Ai's situation: Protests are planned to commemorate Ai's 10oth day of captivity, nearly two months from now, while others I've talked to are considering 90-day observances.


Obey-style Ai Weiwei graphic by Artorical

I've been half-expecting a Shepard Fairey Ai Weiwei poster, but as Niborama (via Hyperallergic Labs) reports, somebody beat him to it: Artorical created this poster, inspired by Fairey's ubiquitous Obey imagery:
The Chinese text 爱未来, (replacing the omnipotent “OBEY”) translates in English to “Love The Future”, which has been adopted as the watchword, or rallying cry in support of Ai’s release because it is very similar to the Chinese spelling of his name 艾未未.
Writes Fairey in response to a query by Niborama:
“I think the poster is great. I wholly endorse the message and I’m proud that an homage to my work is the form it has taken. I have been following the Ai Weiwei situation sympathetically and I am a strong advocate of social justice in my own work, so I like and support the poster Andrew made.”
Also, after my foray into rubylith, here's a glimpse of my Ai rubylith in progress.

Ai Weiwei Update: 05.16.11

Image via the Facebook page Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Forty-three days into his captivity, Ai Weiwei has been allowed to briefly see his wife, Lu Qing, for the first time. The 15-minute, highly monitored visit Sunday didn't yield much information about the conditions of his imprisonment, but he appeared healthy, dispelling rumors that he'd been tortured (to his elderly mother's relief). Lu noted that he wasn't wearing prison clothes and his beard wasn't shaved, suggesting he may be under house arrest instead of in a jail. According to reports, authorities warned Lu about talking the press, lest she worsen Ai's case.

• "I could see redness in his eyes," Lu said of the visit. "It was obvious that without freedom to express himself he was not behaving naturally even with me, someone from his family. He seemed conflicted, contained, his face was tense ... We could not talk about the economic charges or other stuff, mainly about the family and health. We were careful, we knew that the deal could be broken at any moment, so we were careful."

• In a late April interview with CBS, released Friday, Ai's mother pleaded, "Save my son. Save my son. I hear that he's suffering now -- (they're) treating him cruelly and inhumanely." Seventy-eight-year old Gao Ying also said that Ai has no ties to the Jasmine Revolution, Falun Gong or any other groups that have run afoul of the Chinese government. "[H]e was taken because he was protecting the rights of ordinary citizens and speaking for them," she said. "With many things that happened, he just had to speak out -- he said a lot, criticizing the government for not abiding by the rule of law in dealing with certain incidents."

• The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego has just bought two pieces from Ai's "Marble Chairs" series, works that gain resonance the longer Ai is missing (i.e. the longer the artist is absent from his work). This week the museum will host a silent protest: "Beginning at 11 AM on Thursday, May 19 and continuing through 11 AM on Friday, May 20, volunteer participants will occupy two traditionally styled Chinese chairs for one-hour periods. This 24-hour sit-in references Ai Weiwei’s sculpture series, Marble Chair, two of which are currently on view in the Museum’s exhibition, Prospect 2011."

• CNN offers a nice view of Ai's show at Lisson Gallery in London, which includes a clip from an old interview with the artist: "Art is not just decoration. Art is not just items of the collectors' habit. Art is about social change. It's about how we define our time and our culture."

• Had to reread this headline three times: "Ai Arrest Jangles Beijing Art Scene Nerves as Fish Head, Bike Go on Show."

Filmmaker Alison Klayman: "I will appear on The Colbert Report tonight. Tune in to see my first television appearance, hear about my experiences with Weiwei and maybe even speculate about what Weiwei would think about Colbert's portrait recently auctioned at Philips de Pury"


Ai Weiwei Update: 05.12.11

Ai Weiwei in the hospital after being beaten by police, Sept. 2009. Via Twitter.

Torture and Ai Weiwei:
The most sinister development — and the only real glimpse yet of what might be going on with the artist himself — has been the release of an account, penned under a pseudonym by someone identifying himself as a disaffected reporter with the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency. The piece was published in English translation by ChinaAid, a United States-funded organization dedicated to tracking religious persecution in China, with the caveat that the organization could not independently confirm its veracity. It states that a "Public Security Ministry official with a conscience" told Xinhua insiders the details of the brutal means used on Ai: "Fu Zhenghua, the chief of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, instructed those handling the case to show Ai Weiwei the video of [dissident lawyer] Gao Zhisheng being tortured, including shots of electric batons being inserted into Gao's anus and his blood, semen, feces, and urine spurting out," the account alleges. "Fu Zhenghua also issued an order saying: Whatever methods were used on Gao Zhisheng, use the same ones to make Ai Weiwei give in. After several consecutive days of torture, Ai Weiwei was finally compelled to sign a statement of confession, admitting to tax evasion."
• An online editorial marking today's anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake three years ago has disappeared from the website of Guangdong’s Southern Metropolis Daily, China Media Project reports. The piece included three allusions to Ai Weiwei, whose art and activism frequently addressed the quake -- and corruption by local officials that may have exacerbated its effects -- that killed some 90,000 people:
“In our hearts, we lowered our flags to half-mast for them. On the day of mourning we called them home and wished them peace. We gathered together all the human evidence of them we could. We read their names together. We promised that we would bear them constantly in mind, never forgetting, over and over again. We did so much, and yet we did too little. Those of you who were lost and did not return, where are you? Can the light we kindle shine across your path? We cannot do more.”
Ai sought to compile a list of the children killed in the quake, something the government refused to do. The editorial also mentioned quake victims who "lived happily on this earth for seven years, or for longer or shorter periods of time" -- a clear reference to an installation by Ai that spelled out a grieving mother's words about her late daughter in children's school backpacks on the exterior of a Munich museum: "She lived happily for seven years in this world."

Ai's studio has released a video commemorating the quake's anniversary. Edited before Ai's detention more than a month ago, the video "consists of harrowing interviews with black-clad parents whose children died in the quake, and who have braved beatings, official harassment, and detentions in an attempt to protest alleged shoddy construction in the quake-hit schools," Radio Free Asia reports.

• Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, traveling in China this week, called Beijing's human-rights record "deplorable": "They're worried and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand. They cannot do it. But they're going to hold it off as long as possible." The State Department is reportedly investing $19 million to help Chinese and Iranian dissidents bypass government internet censors through new technology dubbed “slingshots” that sidestep firewalls in those countries.

Sculptor Anish Kapoor on Ai's detention:
I feel that as artists we have a communal voice and it's important that we stick together, that we have a sense of solidarity with each other. It would be nice to see the art world come together a little more. Perhaps all museums and galleries should be closed for a day across the world. I think some such campaign needs to form itself... It does bear witness to the barbarity of governments that if they're that paranoid they have to put away artists. It's a ridiculous situation.
Alison Klayman, director of the documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, will be a guest on The Colbert Report Monday night, May 16, the film's Facebook page confirms. Support production of the film on Kickstarter.

• Jed Perl at the New Republic writes on Ai, "the Chinese answer to Joseph Beuys, a post-Duchampian shaman with an Asian spin."

• ArtInfo.com looks at a fashion trend around Ai's plight, noting a Free Ai shirt in the window of Brooklyn Industries... an apparel company called out in 2009 for outsourcing its work to China.


Video: Minneapolis artist Amy Rice for Manifest Equality

It's an odd week for Minnesota: As bloggers and Twitterers tout the state being dubbed the nation's "gayest" and "hippest," the Minnesota Senate voted today in favor of a Republican plan to put a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the ballot next year (despite the fact that such unions are already illegal here). Once it passes the House -- as is likely, since Republicans are the majority there, too -- it'll be up to the voters. Depressing, yes. But artist Amy Rice has a more hopeful stance. On Facebook today, she offered a link to a video for Manifest Equality that features her work. "Minnesota will vote for love," she writes. "I am sure of it."

Befitting art's long history of supporting equality for LGBT people, Manifest Equality was backed by a large number of art figures, including Edgar Arceneaux, UCLA Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin, Ed Ruscha, Barry McGee, Maya Hayuk, and many others. They follow the example the late Louise Bourgeois, who donated one of her last artworks to Freedom to Marry.

"Everyone should have the right to marry," Bourgeois, who died last May 31 at age 98, said of the project (quoted in a blog post here one year ago today). "To make a commitment to love someone forever is a beautiful thing."


Dorothy Parvaz, American citizen and Al Jazeera English journalist, missing in Syria

Al Jazeera English calls for the release of American-Canadian-Iranian journalist Dorothy Parvaz, who went missing in Syria 12 days ago. Her family fears the former Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter has been targeted, as many others have been, for being a journalist in Syria. (Here's the "Free Dorothy Parvaz" Facebook page.)

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Syria to release Parvaz and another journalist being held, Al-Massae editor Rachid Nini, vowing that "A revolving door detention policy will not stop journalists from reporting on the country's uprising." (Syria has been detaining then releasing journalists, reportedly in an attempt at intimidation.) Reporters without Borders reports that Parvaz's detention is part of a larger sweep of journalists covering the pro-democracy protests in Syria.

Journalists are under fire worldwide, yet their role in informing us about these democracy movements -- not to mention their key role of holding governments and politicians accountable domestically and abroad -- is more important than ever. If you agree, please support groups like Reporters without Borders, The Committee to Protect Journalists, the World Press Freedom Committee, and many other global, regional and country-specific press freedom groups.

"Restrepo" director Tim Hetherington, Pulitzer-nominated photog Chris Hondros killed in Libya

War correspondent Janine diGiovanni discusses the dangers of international journalism

(Thanks, Jillia.)


Video: Broken Crow in Mexico City

Via Brooklyn Street Art, a mini-documentary on Minneapolis stencil-art duo Broken Crow's recent trip to Mexico City, where they did a mural at the Antique Toy Museum Mexico.

Broken Crow (Mike Fitzsimmons and John Grider) in Gambia, Minneapolis and Brooklyn.

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.


"Dream House": Photographer TJ Proechel looks at the Minnesota foreclosure crisis

11th Ave., St. Paul MN

The numbers in the ongoing foreclosure crisis can be difficult to get your brain around: More than a million lost homes across the United States last year, including more than 25,000 in Minnesota (according to Housing Link). Put that data into visual form, as journalist Jeff Severns Guntzel did recently with his map of Minneapolis foreclosures, and you get a troubling, if less than human-scaled, picture.

Enter TJ Proechel, a fine art photographer who after getting his BFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art found himself doing contracting work on real estate–owned and recently foreclosed properties around the Twin Cities. His "Dream House" series, begun in 2008 and shot on those work sites, gives faces to those affected by foreclosure -- sometimes emotionally so -- but often the more human images are those where former homeowners are no longer present. A hand-written Post-It note of "The Our Father" left on a kitchen wall (apparently in the same home where Proechel found a wallet photo of a woman performing oral sex), a child's stuffed dog toy, bedraggled Christmas decorations long stripped of their jubilance: the items left behind offer clues about what dreams, too -- comfortable domesticity, love, Ameican dream normalcy -- may likewise have been discarded.
Virginia Ave., St. Paul, MN

I caught up with Proechel via email recently to discuss the photos, which he says he feels "conflicted about." With construction experience from high school and college summers he had skills that could serve well in the building trades, but the economic downturn left him with only the option of working with foreclosed homes.

"So on one hand it was my responsibility to clear out these houses and fix them up so they could be resold," he said. "And at the same time it was shocking and emotionally taxing to be amidst people's personal belongings. Many houses where largely vacant and cleaned out by the time I got to them, but often you could really get a sense of, and begin to shape a narrative of, people's lives. And more often than not, people who are going through foreclosure are dealing with more than just that: unemployment, divorce, illness, arrests or countless other things that fuck up peoples' lives."

He said that early on it was unnerving going into such sites of sadness but eventually he grew accustomed.

"The images are voyeuristic. I wish I could say that they weren't, but they give no voice to the individuals being depicted and no agency," he says.

Hazel Ave., Woodbury, MN

"Over time working in foreclosure, you become very desensitized to it," he says. "When you're responsible for maintaining 30-plus houses, that's the overwhelming priority. And there is also something else that's strange about Minnesota and foreclosure. This state's foreclosure policies are much more humane than other states. The foreclosure process here starts nine months before a person has to leave their house. So individuals are more than aware what's going on and are often resolved to the fact that they're going to lose their house. Not to say that it's not emotional and financially devastating, it's just a different environment than many people imagine."

Hazel Ave., Woodbury, MN

Some of the most difficult experiences involved meeting with people who had refinanced their homes into Adjustable Rate Mortgages or took out mortgages against their houses, he said.

"Usually they were older couples who were trying to get a little more money to subsidize their income and their houses were already paid off," Proechel says. "I photographed one couple, Joe and DeAnne, who had lived in their house for 40 years before they had to leave."

Joe and DeAnne, Minneapolis, MN


Ai Weiwei Update: 05.05.11

Neugerriemschneider is hosting a show of Ai Weiwei's work, advertised by a huge "Where is Ai Weiwei?" banner on the Berlin gallery's facade by Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija (above). The New York Times on the exhibition (thanks, Kelsey):
Ai’s meditative installation features two sculptures, “Rock” and “Tree,” and offers a sanctuary in which the solace of nature has been fabricated with the help of premodern technology. “Rock” consists of a series of white porcelain outcroppings, fabricated in the city of Jingdezhen (the supposed birthplace of porcelain) and painted with a swirling blue motif. “Tree” assembles two trees together from segments of fallen trunks harvested in southern China, using a traditional Chinese technique involving giant screws and that adds a kinetic twist to their natural shape. The arrangement encourages a Taoist interpretation — the white “rocks” also resemble a formation of clouds floating across the floor, suggesting a temporary union of Heaven and Earth in which distinctions between the natural and synthetic have been collapsed.
NPR talks to Tang Chin, aka Tangerine, the 22-year old graffiti artist who's been stenciling "Who's afrai of Ai Weiwei?" stencils around Hong Kong. She faces a maximum of ten years in prison if captured by police for property damage. "I have to thank the police for drawing so much attention to this issue. Even if I have to go to jail, I think that would be a very, very worth it price to pay," she says. Others are now downloading Tangerine's stencil to do their own graffiti, and one artist is doing "flash graffiti" -- projections on city walls -- of the imagery.

• As writer/curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist calls Ai's blog -- released in book form last month by The MIT Press --"one of the greatest social sculptures of our time," The Telegraph posts the detained artist's top 10 tweets, translated into English.

• Through their "Ai Weiwei Works Here" campaign, Signal Fire's Amy Harwood and Ryan Pierce offer a downloadable "image as a graphic for screens and printed matter, and thereby brings Weiwei into homes, studios, streets, and virtual spaces."

• “The more a city embraces diversity and tolerates dissent, the stronger it becomes,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the unveiling of Ai's Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads sculpture in Central Park Wednesday. Calling on China to release the artist, he said, “And there is no place on earth that gives freer rein to more voices and viewpoints than New York City ... This is a message from America to the whole world that we are the place where people can come and express themselves. China would be well served to listen to our message and to copy us.”

Sculptor Anish Kapoor on Tuesday: "I wish to dedicate my new work, Leviathan at the Grand Palais, Paris, to my colleague Ai Weiwei. His arrest, disappearance and alleged torture are unacceptable. When governments silence artists it bears witness to their barbarity."

• Now it appears that reporting on Ai is a jailable offense: The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that Caijing magazine journalist Zhang Jialong, who'd written and tweeted about Ai, has been missing since having a "talk" with Beijing police on April 28. Ai's friend, journalist Wen Tao, has been missing since April 3.


Nadia Plesner on Louis Vuitton case: "This is a great day for art"

Danish artist Nadia Plesner sends an email with her reaction to today's ruling by a judge in The Hague throwing out Louis Vuitton's copyright infringment lawsuit against her. "I am absolutely overwhelmed with joy, and I cried when I heard the great news," she writes.

She continues:
I hoped for the best, but never expected the result to be this positive! The judge completely anulled the court order from January 27th, so now I don't have to pay the fine of 485.000 Euros anymore. I am also free to show Darfurnica and Simple Living [the image that was the subject of Vuitton's 2008 lawsuit against her].

It has been a hard and intensive time, and I am pleased that it is over. The good thing about the legal case is, that Darfurnica got much more attention, and therefore the situation in Darfur got more attention. I hope that my painting has inspired some some debate about media and priorities.

I am also very grateful from all the support I have been receiving from all over the world, especially from Darfurian people who reached out to me.

Today is a great day for art. If I had lost this, I believe it would have caused many artists to censor their own work to avoid legal trouble. Now we have won back our freedom to make reference to the modern society we live in.

EU court rules against Louis Vuitton in Nadia Plesner copyright case

Artist Nadia Plesner has prevailed in a copyright infringement lawsuit leveled by luxury handbag manufacturer Louis Vuitton for her use of the company's iconic bag in her painting Darfurnica (detail at right). A court in The Hague handed down its ruling this morning, finding that "the importance of Plesner (freedom of expression through her work) outweighs the importance of Vuitton (protection of property)" (according to a Google translation of a Dutch news story).

Vuitton was seeking a penalty of 5,000 Euros per day for each day her large-scale painting -- inspired by Picasso's Guernica, but created to raise awareness of the plight of people in Darfur, Sudan, and western indifference to it -- remained on her website. The company began its tally on Jan. 28. It also sought to prevent her from exhibiting the work online or in the European Union.

Plesner made headlines in 2008 when Vuitton sued her for using the image of a Darfurian boy with an Audra handbag in t-shirts. Plesner has since started a foundation to raise funds to help people in Darfur, Tanzania, Uganda and elsewhere, and the attention of this most recent suit -- which has garnered headlines in newspapers and blogs worldwide (not to mention the eye of street artists) -- will surely help boost the profile of those efforts.

According to a Danish news report, Louis Vuitton -- which posted
profits of $28.26 billion last year -- has been ordered by The Hague to pay Plesner's legal costs.

Plesner, who gave her defense at The Hague on April 21, wrote on her website when the suit was filed, "The story about Darfur must be told, and I believe I should have my artistic freedom of speech to do so." The Hague, sensibly, concurred.

Update: Nadia Plesner on Louis Vuitton case: "This is a great day for art."

(Thanks to the commenter who tipped me off about the decision.)


File under: This could be art

ATV guy celebrates Osama bin Laden's death.

Ai Weiwei Update: 05.03.11

• One month ago today, artist Ai Weiwei was taken into police custody. No formal charges have been filed, his family reportedly has not had contact with him, and his whereabouts remain unknown.

• In Hong Kong, someone dubbed "Cpak Ming" is projecting "flash graffiti" images of Ai's face on buildings around town, including the barracks of the People's Liberation Army, and then posting photos on Facebook. The likeness is the same as the one created by "Chin Tangerine," who's been tracked by the police for stenciling the image on HK sidewalks.

• Ai's installation of millions of sunflower seeds in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall is scheduled to come down this week, but The Australian reports that 10 million of the porcelain seeds will be retained in a
"1.5m-high conical sculpture that willbe a symbol of solidarity with the artist."

• Charlotte Eaton, a 32-year old London woman, protested Ai's detention yesterday with a nude walk across the bed of sunflower seeds. "I didn't want to be removed by security so didn't stay long. I heard someone shout 'bravo', which was very nice," she said. "No action was taken against me by security guards, and a member of the Tate's press smiled at me as I winked at her and left."

• Yesterday's unveiling of Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads in Central Park was postponed by Mayor Bloomberg's office, upstaged by the killing of Osama bin Laden. Despite the delay, activists rallied around the works yesterday to show support for the artist.

• Check out ArtInfo.com's multimedia timeline of Ai's life.

• In another nod to Ai's 2007 work Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs -- which sparked global 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei protests on April 17 -- pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong commemorated the first month of Ai's captivity by using chairs to form the Chinese character for "prison" in Victoria Park.

• While western governments have condemned Ai's detention without charge, Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, has not, a fact activists there pointed out yesterday at a rally where they urged Ma to take a stand.


Osama: The stencils

Segue Sundries

Osama bin Laden has given street artists material for years. While I haven't seen any dead-Osama street-art yet, here's a look at some stencils inspired by the long-uncaught (until now) terrorist.

Bear and Toad


Guo Gai released from detention, but unable to leave Beijing

Guo Gai, the Chinese artist detained on Mar. 24 after photographing a pro-democracy performance at the Beijing Museum of Contemporary Art is free. The Soap Factory here in Minneapolis confirms its earlier note, adding that according to University of Minnesota professor and sculptor Tom Rose, Gai was released on April 24 and is in "reasonable health." The artist won't, however, be allowed to leave China -- or Beijing -- for any reason, including attending the exhibition of his politically charged large scale photos (pictured) and choral piece in Minneapolis late this summer.

Debra DeNoyelles at the Soap says the art venue is having discussions about how to present and discuss Gai's work in the context of the current crackdown on dissent and free speech in China. His work will be presented with that of Meng Tang and Natalia Slinko. Tang, DeNoyelles writes in an email, was "barely allowed out of China at the beginning of [last] month. (She was only able to leave because a friend who is a flight attendant allowed her to change flights surreptitiously.)" A former instructor at the Beijing Academy of Film, Tang now says she doesn't think she'll be able to leave for the next year.

More on this exhibition, Gai's work and the work of Slinko and Tang as the Aug. 27 exhibition opening approaches.