Newsworthy train graffiti: BIRTHERS

BIRTHERS graffiti, shot by Martin Olson, on a rail mural by IMPEACH, AMFM and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Here's another shot.

Earlier: Rage on the rails: ALB's IMPEACH, POVERTY, BAILOUT.

Ai Weiwei Update: 04.29.11

Twenty-five days since Ai Weiwei disappeared, and counting.

A new petition calls on international artists, galleries and museums to stop showing work in China. Says the drive posted at Avaaz.org, "We’ll deliver it at the Venice Biennale exhibition soon, and publish the reactions of major galleries and artists." More than 53,000 people have signed.

• Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi tweets about the attack by Chinese hackers -- first confirmed by Eyeteeth -- on Change.org for hosting a petition, now at 126,000 signatories, calling for China to release Ai. According to the San Fransciso Chronicle, the Denial of Service attack, coming from Chinese IP addresses, continues.

• Ai's friend, musician Zuoxiao Zuzhou, tweets “Everything is ok now, thanks for your concerns," after disappearing for several days. Via ANIMAL.

• Didi Kirsten Tatlow, writing from China for the New York Times: "An outspoken artist angers rulers with his savage, satirical wit. A crusader for political freedom and social justice, he lives in fear of arrest. Beaten and jailed, he becomes famous far beyond the borders of his land. That was Voltaire, the hero of Europe’s 18th-century Enlightenment. It is also Ai Weiwei..."

Time Out London's March interview with Ai is wide-ranging, eerily prescient and instructive about the state of Chinese authoritarianism, from foreign journalists being punched for covering news to a young Chinese person being arrested for placing a white flower on the ground to this:
[O]n the Chinese internet you cannot type any sentence with the word 'tomorrow' in it -- the word 'tomorrow' has become a sensitive word.Because maybe people will say, “Tomorrow we will all walk in Wang Fu Jing.” [The central spot in Beijing for the recent jasmine protest activity]. At the same time you cannot type, 'today'. The machine will just take anything with 'today' in it. [Laughs] It's really amazing that you can't use the words tomorrow and today. So you can see how extremely nervous they have become. And there's no discussion, no intellectual exchanges or argument. It's so much like Chinese parents from the olden times, where the children just had to listen to them without showing any sign of disagreement, or questioning, or different attitudes. To try and challenge the economic and political situation today is not going to be OK. That is going to be devastating. This nation has had no creativity for the past 100 years.


Welded graffiti plaque by NOISE

This welded plaque on Mississippi railroad bridge in Northeast Minneapolis -- probably a piece by this writer -- is a good book-end to the guerrilla "Struggle" placard that's on the nearby bridge between Boom Island and Nicollet Island.


Video: Alec Soth shooting out the window

Man, I love this video, a teaser for the film Somewhere to Disappear, with Alec Soth.

Ai Weiwei Update: 04.27.11

• Chinese rock musician Zuoxiao Zuzhou and his wife, Xiao Li, were reportedly stopped by authorities Wednesday and have not been heard from since. Zuoxiao, a sculptor, photographer and member of the band No, penned a piece for a Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper Tuesday entitled, "Who doesn't love Ai Weiwei?"

• NYU law professor Jerome Cohen notes that Ai's legal counsel hasn't been permitted to meet with him; he says the artist's case illustrates how "far China’s police are not only from adhering to the standards of fair criminal justice enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the government signed in 1998 but has yet to ratify, but also from adhering to their own country’s criminal procedure law." He writes:
[W]hatever the evidence being assembled about tax evasion or other charges, that this was not the motivation for Ai’s detention. This case started out on a “detain first and look for justification later” basis. If evidence sufficient to sustain a conviction is found, the case will become a preeminent example of what criminal justice experts call “selective prosecution.” Ai has been singled out from a large number of potentially suspected offenders not because of the magnitude of any alleged economic crimes but because of his creative and eye-catching political challenges to the regime and his defense of human rights.
• China wants to "deepen mutual understanding," as CNN puts it, in talks with the U.S. this week, but human rights -- including Ai Weiwei's detention -- is off the table.

• New York's Central Park will host Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals: Zodiac Heads, but, oddly, the park department's press release reportedly doesn't mention Ai's ongoing imprisonment.

• First Ai, now Confucius? A 31-foot bronze statue of Confucius was removed from Tiananmen Square "under mysterious circumstances." Nobody has any answers about where the sculpture went, but ArtInfo.com notes:
Under Mao, Confucius was a banned figure, since the Communist leader saw his philosophy of harmony and submission to family and duty as dangerous remnants of China's feudal past. Now, on the home page of the hardline Communist Web site maoflag.net, the character for "demolish" has been scrawled on an image of the statue. A maoflag.net user named Jiangxi Li Jianjun exulted that "the statue of the slave-owning sorcerer Confucius has been driven from Tiananmen Square!"
• In a visit to China, Swiss Interior Minister Didier Burkhalter made mention, if tepid, of Ai's plight.

A video of Ai Weiwei graffiti in Hong Kong.

• ArtInfo:
"Filmmaker Flees Capital After Beijing Documentary Festival Shutters Amid Crackdown on Intellectuals."

• The petition: 124,000 signatures strong.

Flier posted at East 4th Street and 2nd Avenue, New York; photo by Antoine Schweitzer via Doryun Chong.


Guo Gai reportedly has been released

Finally some good news about artists in China:

Debra deNoyelles of the Soap Factory in Minneapolis emails to say that Guo Gai, the Chinese artist arrested on Mar. 24 and held since then, has been released from prison. Gai was taken into custody after photographing a performance that had pro-democracy themes, although I've speculated that his politically pointed art might have something to do with his protracted detention. Gai's large-scale photographs will be exhibited at the Soap Factory in August, along with the premiere of a choral work based on recent events in Chinese history, but deNoyelles says it's "patently clear that he will not be approved to leave the country to attend the exhibition." She says she'll know more about Gai tomorrow.


Sued by Louis Vuitton, Nadia Plesner gets her day in court

Darfurnica (detail), Nadia Plesner, 2010

Danish artist Nadia Plesner, the subject of two lawsuits in recent years by luxury goods brand Louis Vuitton had her say in court in The Hague yesterday. Louis Vuitton -- which had profits of $28.26 billion last year -- is suing her for copyright infringement for rendering one of its handbags in her painting Darfurnica, which seeks to raise awareness of the ongoing conflict in Darfur, Sudan. The company seeks to penalize her 5,000 Euros for each day the artistic work is pictured on her website and aims to prevent Plesner from exhibiting the painting either on her website or at venues in the European Union.

Yesterday, Plesner finally got to present her defense -- before a full-sized reproduction of the painting. On Facebook she shares how it went:
They stated that they have no problem with Darfurnica, never had, and that they only object to me using "their product" in my Simple Living "logo" [pictured here]. We highly objected to it all, since Simple Living is an art work, just as Darfurnica and because LV has aggressively been going after the painting from day one.

We also presented the threats regarding the painting that LV's attorney made to me by phone, which he of course denied completely.

I thought the most important part was when the judge asked LV's attorney why Darfurnica was mentioned in the lawsuit - and forbidden by the court order - if they didn't have a problem with it? To which their attorney responded "You shouldn't read it like that."

Then the judge asked how else he could read it, since the painting is the first thing mentioned in the list of works they want to forbid, but their attorney insisted that the court order should be read as if the paragraph regarding Darfurnica was not there. He aggressively went on and on for an hour about how I abused them, for example by using their Audra bag as an eyecatcher on the invitation for my exhibition. Yes, I used my own Simple Living drawing (not their Audra Bag) on the invitation to my art exhibition about Darfur. What a crazy thing to do.

We had a 1:1 print of Darfurnica in the court room and I presented it to the judge and explained why I painted it and what the different symbols represented. I have had the chance to present Darfurnica to a lot of different people by now both in my studio, in the Odd Fellow Palace and at the HEART museum, but it felt so surreal to do it in a court room, especially in front of various LV representatives.

I explained the urgency for raising awareness about the situation in Darfur, and how I had painted various Hollywood gossip stories that got an insane amount of media attention.

The judge listened, and I believe he understood the meaning of the painting.

There were about 65 people present during the hearing, many artists and fellow students came to support me, and they had made these great little supportive badges with different texts like: "Louis, art is cool", etc. It made a great difference to me that I was not there alone, and I am grateful to the people who showed up.

There were also different reporters present, and even though LV's attorney consistently claimed that I had manipulated the media to be on my side, the articles today are not different from the previous ones, even after the reporters had heard both sides of the story and were presented with the evidence from both sides.

The final result was that we asked the judge to have the court order from January 27th annulled, and LV objected to this. The judge said he would try to give his ruling before May 4, 2011.

Bits: 04.21.11

• On yesterday's one-year anniversary of the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, artist-activists at Liberate Tate staged a guerrilla performance in the Tate Britain galleries to highlight the museum's ties to BP. The peformance: "A naked member of the group has had an oil-like substance [charcoal and sunflower oil] poured over him by silent figures dressed in black and wearing veils, and is now lying in a fetal position on the floor in the middle of the exhibition Single Form." See video of the piece, Human Cost. Earlier: Art Not Oil targets petroleum-industry sponsorship of the arts

• The same day, 166 artists, writers and thinkers -- including Naomi Klein, Lucy Lippard, Rebecca Solnit and Brian Holmes -- signed an open letter published in The Guardian calling for the Tate to "demonstrate its commitment to a sustainable future by ending its sponsorship relationship with BP."

• We lost two great journalists in Libya yesterday -- Restrepo co-creator Tim Hetherington and photographer Chris Hondros -- while more remain in jeopardy in the country: 34-year old American freelance reporter Claire Gillis (The Atlantic, USA Today) has been in Libyan custody since Apr. 5 and was last seen in a detention facility two weeks ago today. American Global Post correspondent James Foley, Spanish photographer Manu Brabo and South African photographer Anton Hammerl were also detained.

• In its first layoffs since 2009, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has cut 10 positions, including that of Sue Canterbury, associate curator of paintings, who has been at the museum for 12 years. The cutbacks, which follow layoffs of 19 people two years ago, is part of an effort to trim $1.4 million from the MIA's budget.

• Curators of the Sharjah Biennial have issued a "final" statement following the abrupt firing of biennial director Jack Persekian following outrage over a work some deemed offensive: "It is deeply disheartening to witness the biennial’s complexities, poetics and considerations overcast by this crisis, and its bold proposals contrived to the service of shock value. To shock was never our strategy, and offense never our intention."

• Creators of the Sharjah petition, which has some 1,600 signatures so far, send an email: "Our call for action to boycott stems from our indignation, disappointment and refusal to accept that the hard work of creating a transnational and local arena for artistic practice and debate from within Sharjah could so quickly, arbitrarily and unilaterally be annulled, that internal politics were allowed to reign over this matter at the expense of a much needed conversation, and that artworks in the 10th Sharjah Biennial were altered without the minimum of transparency on behalf of the Foundation." They seek: "public acknowledgment of the events that occurred and the exact manner in which they took place," and a "guarantee that safeguards the intellectual independence of Sharjah Art Foundation’s multiple productions including the work of the artists involved with the Foundation."

• The LAPD thinks one of two French graffiti artists it has in custody for suspected vandalism is Space Invader.

• Hyperallergic has photos of the damage at Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, which was hit by an arsonist the other day, in Barcelona.

Paint like Jackson Pollock. Online. Sorta.

Ai Weiwei Update: 04.21.11

Groninger Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands

• The Chinese hacker attack on Change.org for hosting the Free Ai Weiwei petition seems to have been a publicity boon: Before the attack, the petition had around 92,000 signatures; today it has more than 112,000.

• The denial of service attack continues, but in an email forwarded to Eyeteeth, Change.org's online marketing director says the group has hired a firm that specializes in DDOS attacks and that "we are now back at 100%." In a blog post, Change's Benjamin Joffe-Walt says the site is urging the U.S. State Department to break its silence and publicly condemn the attack. He asks supporters to tweet the following:
@statedept, condemn Chinese hacker attack on @guggenheim’s @change campaign to free Ai Weiwei @aiww: http://chn.ge/fnOU4H #freeaiww
• The Telegraph (UK) takes western governments to task for its "shameful silence" on Ai and the plight of other jailed dissidents in China: "[I]nstead of continuing with their craven kowtow towards Beijing, the leaders of the free world should stand together and demand the release of this brave man."

• Concurring with that sentiment are Guy Verhofstadt and Edward McMillan-Scott, former Belgian prime minister and vice presidenet of the European Parliament, respectively. Noting the west's "limp 'concern'" for Ai's safety, they write, "The EU and the U.S. should stand unequivocally behind reformists in the world's remaining tyrannies."

Salman Rushdie on Ai Weiwei: "We can perhaps bet on art to win over tyrants. It is the world’s artists, particularly those courageous enough to stand up against authoritarianism, for whom we need to be concerned, and for whose safety we must fight."

• Alison Klayman's film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry should be ready for release "in the fall."

• John Zhang of The Epoch Times writes on the "Chinese media smear campaign" against Ai.

• Despite his detention, which began following his Apr. 3 arrest, Ai has been given a professorship at Berlin University of the Arts. A few days before his arrest, Ai said he'd be moving to Berlin to set up a studio, although he didn't plan on living there full time. "But I would have no other choice if my life or my existence were to be somehow threatened."


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

Oscar-nominated documetary filmmaker and photojournalist Tim Hetherington (Restrepo) has been killed in Libya and photographer Chris Hondros has been "gravely injured." Photographer André Liohn broke the news on Facebook, posting from the hospital that "Tim Hetherington died in Misrata now when covering the front line. Chris Hondros is in a serious status. Michel Brown and Guy are wounded but fine." It's not clear yet who "Guy" is. The mainstream media, including AP and AFP, have confirmed the news.

Update: Early reports incorrectly stated Hondros died; he survived but "suffered a severe brain injury," is in "extremely critical condition" and remains in a coma. Guy Martin, who shoots for Panos, is also listed as injured in "serious" condition. A fourth photographer, Michael Christopher Brown, was injured by shrapnel but is in good condition. I've modified this post to be more accurate.

Update 04.21.11: "Mr. Hondros suffered an extensive loss of brain tissue and was revived twice before being triaged from care. He spent several hours in a coma and died after 10 p.m., Mr. Liohn said." Here's a look at his arresting work from LIbya.

Hetherington, the British filmmaker, most recently created the Afghanistan war documentary Restrepo with writer Sebastian Junger. Hondros has won many awards for his work, but, perhaps most notably, his Liberia series was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004.

Tim Hetherington's last tweet, above, offers a chilling reminder of the situation, forgotten by many stateside, of the continuing conflict in Libya. According to Reporters without Borders, 16 other journalists have been killed this year so far, including two in Libya: Mohamed Al-Nabbous of Libya Al-Hurra and Al-Jazeera's Ali Hassan Al Jaber.


Bits: 04.19.11

Steve Lambert, Billboard, Pittsburgh, PA

• Like artist Steve Lambert, you too can rent the billboard atop Pittsburgh's Waffle Shop. 25 characters per line, 5 lines. Price: Only $100 a week.

• Around 1,500 people had to be evacuated from Barcelona's Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí's famed basilica, after an arsonist set fires. A Barcelona man reportedly walked into the sacristy, sprayed a flammable liquid and set fire to vestments stored there. "The sacristy was destroyed in the blaze and the crypt – part of the building completed while Gaudí was still alive – was badly damaged by smoke," The Guardian reports.

• Video: Justseeds highlights an art-and-ecology project by Minnesota artists Xavier Tavera and Maria Cristina Tavera at last summer's Watershed: Art, Activism, and Community Engagement in Milwaukee.

• AltJapan looks at cute characters created to warn kids about tsunamis.

• Via Bad at Sports, Chicago is launching a CSA program inspired in part by the mnartists.org/Springboard for the Arts' Community Supported Art program. Here's PBS Artbeat's look at the Minnesota program from last summer.

• The Big Picture gives a deserved salute to war photographers who are facing increasingly more dangerous conditions.

On the origins of the term "shit-faced."

Confirmed: Change.org hit by Denial of Service attack over Ai Weiwei petition

Ben Rattray, founder and CEO of Change.org, confirms via email that a Chinese DDOS attack has knocked the site offline. Change is hosting the Guggenheim Foundation's Free Ai Weiwei petition, which had more 92,000 signatures at last check.

Update: As of 1 pm Central Tuesday, the petition is back online, but a note states that visitors can expect intermittent downtime. "This attack is a sign of the influence of grassroots activists, and Change.org will continue to stand for the free speech and freedom to organize for people everywhere," the site states.

Update 04.20.11: Change sends a note: They've hired a firm that deals specifically with DDoS attacks, and "we are now back at 100%."

Rattray sends a press release Change.org is sending out:
Chinese Hackers Attack Change.org Platform in Reaction to Ai Weiwei Campaign

Attackers use distributed denial of service attack to bring down the world’s fastest growing social action platform after more than 90,000 people in 175 countries call for release of Chinese dissident artist.

19 April, 2011 – Chinese hackers temporarily brought down the world’s fastest-growing social action platform after more than 90,000 people in 175 countries endorsed an online call for the release of internationally acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Weiwei, best known for his role in the construction of the Beijing Olympic stadium and his recent Sunflower Seeds exhibition at the Tate Modern, has become an increasingly outspoken critic of the Chinese government in recent years, in particular over the handling of the 2008 earthquake in the country’s Sichuan province.

The cyber attack on Change.org follows the viral success of a petition calling for Ai Weiwei’s release by leading global art museums, including the Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Tate Modern, London, as well as the Association of Art Museum Directors. The campaign is attracting more than 10,000 new supporters a day and is now the most popular international campaign on Change.org, the world’s fastest growing activism platform with some 3.5 million monthly visitors.

The distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack began early Monday and made the site completely inaccessible for a few hours. Change.org issued a formal request for urgent assistance to the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian Pacific Affairs within hours of the attack.

“We do not know the reason or exact source of these attacks,” said Ben Rattray, the founder of Change.org. “All we know is that after the unprecedented success of a campaign by leading global art museums using our platform to call on the Chinese government to release Ai Weiwei, we became the victims of highly sophisticated denial of service attacks from locations in China.”

“We've notified the U.S. State Department of the situation and asked for their immediate assistance,” Rattray added. “Our engineers have been able to keep up the site during parts of the attack, but we've had some down time and without government assistance there are limits to what we can do.”

Change.org, a platform which allows anyone, anywhere to launch online social action campaigns, has been blocked in China at various points over the last few years.


Ai Weiwei Update: 04.19.11

• On Twitter, Artnews speculates that Change.org, which is hosting the Guggenheim Foundation's Free Ai Weiwei petition, has been hit by a Denial of Service Attack from China. At last count, there were more than 92,000 signatures. Can anyone confirm? Update: Change.org CEO Ben Rattray emails to confirm that Chinese hackers have targeted the site with a DDOS attack.

• Charlie Finch calls for an artworld boycott of China:
...Chinese Foreign Ministry press briefings have mocked Western concerns and laughably held up the United States as oppressive of human rights in contrast to ChiCom self-righteousness. The first thing to remember when considering how to ultimately bring down the ChiComs [Chinese Communists] is that this suppression is totalitarian in its essence: complete, pitiless, uncompromising and unpersuadable by traditional liberal appeals. In arguing with well-meaning Western actors who advocate "engagement," one must respond that there is no fundamental difference between ChiCom police tactics and those of Nazi brown-shirts or Stalinist police in previous eras. Therefore, in the art world, for example, continued activity in China by major auction houses or Western galleries must cease immediately and it is incumbent on artists and collectors who care about what is happening in China to insist on this, refraining from doing business with these players until they withdraw from China.
• Gao Ge, Ai's older sister, says, "Weiwei is doomed to be 'exposed' as a public enemy of unforgivable sins. (People) will know that when they look back at the 'crimes' of his father in 1958 and 1966. We're fully aware the authorities will not easily let him go, they must work out more crimes beyond the 'economic crimes.'"

The kind of critique only Tyler Green can deliver: "[T]he Smithsonian and the Hirshhorn, which have an Ai show scheduled for 2012, have made a particular point of highlighting the injustice of Ai’s detention. Oh, wait, nevermind: I just realized neither has said an official word — let alone anything more — about Ai. You’d think the museum complex charged with telling the American story to the world would have the moral high ground when it comes to supporting an artist speaking truth to power. Oh, wait, nevermind again."

• The Guardian: "Liu Xiaoyuan, who has defended China's leading artist in the past, has reappeared in Beijing after a five-day disappearance."

• Disconnect du jour: At the preview of The Age of Enlightenment exhibition in Beijing earlier this month "hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police and paramilitaries stood guard and watched for dissent, as the state continued its harshest crackdown in years on critics, including democrats, lawyers, writers and artists." “This is why the exhibition is so important: Precisely because of this,” said Martin Roth, director of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, one of the participating museums.

• LACMA just bought an Ai sculpture worth $2.7 million, the LA Times reports.The 2006 spherical sculpture "pays homage to traditional Chinese woodworking through its use of huanghuali (a type of rosewood) and its mortise-and-tenon construction."

Bits: 04.18.11

Mustapha Benfodil, Maportaliche/It Has No Importance, 2011

• An installation by Algerian artist Mustapha Benfodil -- which shows a series of headless mannequin soccer players wearing t-shirts emblazoned with Arabic phrases some found blasphemous -- has been removed from the UAE's Sharjah Biennial for its political content, and the biennial's director, Jack Persekian, has been fired. The work "borrows the voice of rape victims at the hands of religious extremists in Algeria, who were using religious texts to justify their crimes," according to text accompanying a petition protesting the actions against Persekian and the installation.

Andre Serrano's controversial 1987 photo Piss Christ, on view at the Collection Lambert in Avignon, France, was reportedly "destroyed" yesterday. "According to the France Info website radical Catholic activists, who successfully infiltrated the Avignon gallery, attacked the photograph using a hammer, a pickaxe and paint bombs, damaging it beyond repair."

• Animal NY reminds us, via a Sister Wendy analysis of Piss Christ, that the work is anything but anti-Catholic (even if she thinks it's a "hamfisted attempt to preach about the need to reverence the crucifix"). "I thought he was saying... that this is what we're doing to Christ. We're not treating him with reverence... We live very vulgar lives... It was a very admonitory work."

ArtLyst: "The reported 10 billion dollar market for Chinese art is in danger of crashing after auction houses around the world clamp down on non-payers. The practice is rife and the trust or gentleman's agreement which has been practiced by auction houses in the western hemisphere for generations is about to be reevaluated."

Access to the journal Public Art Dialogue is free throughout 2011. (Thanks, Taylor.)

• C-Monster looks at El Celso's contribution to Cadillac Ranch.

• Langston Hughes, the gay, black, pro-union poet provided -- at least temporarily -- a campaign slogan for anti-gay Republican presidential wannabe Rick Santorum late last week. Santorum, despite having his name up top at his exploratory committee's website, says he had "nothing to do with" the use of the phrase "Fighting to make America America again," which is a variant of a line in Hughes' poem.


1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei protests staged worldwide

Hong Kong

A thousand people in Toronto, 200 in Berlin, a "few hundred" in New York, smaller gatherings in other cities: On Sunday, thousands of activists showed up at Chinese embassies and consulates around the world to protest China's detention of artist Ai Weiwei 15 days ago. 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei events took place Dublin, Munich, London, Stockholm, Tallinn (Estonia), Hong Kong (video), Los Angeles, New York (here's Jerry Salz at that protest wearing Rikrit Tiravanija's "Fear Eats the Soul" t-shirt), and elsewhere. The peaceful protests were inspired by Ai's 2007 Documenta installation 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs. While that work was exhibited in an orderly grid without occupants in each chair, yesterday's demonstrations were decidedly more chaotic: Instead of ordered rows of nearly identical chairs, these ones appear hastily arranged on sidewalks and filled with people of all stripes, there to bear witness against injustice.

As much as I'm struck by those who filled chairs yesterday (thanks!), I'm also moved by the poignance of a single empty chair -- the one that should be filled by Ai, perhaps. But then I think of Ai's piece in Basel and I'm reminded that those 1001 seats also represent the many other artists, journalists, bloggers and human rights activists who have disappeared in China in recent months and years. Let's keep a chair saved for them: Guo Gai, Liu Xiaoyuan, Liu Zhenggang, Wen Tao, Ms Hu, Xiao Pang, Liu Xiabo, Huang Xiang, Zhui Hun, Cheng Li and countless others.

New York


Hong Kong

San Francisco



The art of Guo Gai: Chinese artist’s political works may offer clue to continuing detention

Guo Gai, Chinese Jesus Tryptich (detail)

Ai Weiwei isn't the only artist sitting in a cell in China for activities that have displeased the authorities: As I mentioned last Friday, Shanghai-based Guo Gai, among others, was arrested on Mar. 24 for photographing a performance at the Beijing Museum of Contemporary Art that reportedly had pro-democracy content. Gai has a Minneapolis connection: he's scheduled to debut a large-scale photographic installation along with a newly commissioned choral work at the Soap Factory late this summer.

Gai had planned to visit to install the work and attend the Aug. 27 opening, but Debra deNoyelles, development director at the Soap, says she received a "very convoluted" email from Chinese officials this afternoon confirming that Gai remains in custody and that "because the charges against him are unclear, it is also unknown when he could be released." It's unlikely, she adds, that he'll be granted a visa to leave the country.

"We are just worried about him," Soap Factory Executive Director Ben Heywood writes in an email. "The concern would be what they might find on his laptop, and how that might affect his detention," he said of Gai's arrest for photographing the performance, which "touched on the current crackdown on freedom of expression and the 'Jasmine Revolution,'" -- the pro-democracy rallies that swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere -- according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders. The work will be exhibited here even in Gai's absence.

Heywood explains that Tom Rose, a sculptor and art professor at the University of Minnesota, brought Gai's work to the Soap Factory's attention. Rose has traveled to visit with Gai to select works for the installation, which will be shown in a gallery adjacent works by fellow Chinese artist Meng Teng and Ukraine's Nataliya Slinko.

Guo Gai, Countrymen

Heywood emails:
Tom wanted to get Guo to show here not just because of his striking photography, but because Guo himself knows that he really can't show these works in China, and cannot perform the choral work at all. He's of an older generation of artists ... who have lived through China as communist, and now find themselves in a quasi-fascist dictatorship of unbridled capitalism coupled with complete repression of dissent, ruling, apparently, with the approval of everyone. He sees a rising middle class, a rising consumption of contemporary art, but still no questioning of why China has to be like this. His work is very much concerned with this hypocrisy; at least Mao was honest about repression... and that communist repression was towards some greater end rather than the accumulation of wealth.
Like Ai's pointedly critical art, Gai's politically charged work may offer clues about why Chinese authorities are holding him (although official charges haven't yet been made public).

The 10-part vocal work to debut in Minneapolis, China Anhun, is based on 10 incidents in China in 2008, including the Beijing Olympics, the crackdown on citizen protesters in Longnan, Gansu province, and the Mar. 14 riots in Lhasa, Tibet, that killed 18. Each four-minute section uses only "expressive syllables and feelings outpoured in sound" -- according to a performance description provided by the Soap Factory: "Joy, anger, and grief return to the fundamental sounds that emerge from the human throat." The work aims to "comfort the souls that suffered, and to voice complaint about the lot of ordinary people."

Gai's photographs, likewise, have contemporary political urgency. His Chinese Jesus Triptych is about the collapse of spirituality amid cultural change as China's commodity economy boomed. "Faith in communism was inculcated by autocratic education," while the pursuit of material desires caused an erosion of that faith, an artist's statement reads. "Meanwhile, Christian faith, and religious faith in general, has been developing rapidly in China."

Other works in the large-scale installation planned for the Minneapolis venue address themes like Chinese agencies' efforts to reshape -- and interfere with -- cultural production, capital punishment and how nouveau riche benefiting from China's growth have "lost their moral compass," among others.

Here's the Soap Factory's official statement, by Heywood, on the detention:
"The Soap Factory is distressed to learn of the arrest and detention of artist Guo Gai on March 24th at the Beijing Contemporary Art Museum. He was arrested with 3 other artists for taking photographs during a performance exhibition dealing with the 'Jasmine Revolution.' Like his collegue, Ai Wei Wei, Guo's only crime is that of free expression within a repressive dictatorship. We hope that Guo will be released soon, and our prayers are with him, his friends and family."

Update 04.25.11: Guo Gai has reportedly been released.

Mural: Art. Changes. Everything.

Mural at Intermedia Arts, Minneapolis, shot by Jared Berger

Ai Weiwei Update: 04.15.11

• Dia Art Foundation director Philippe Vergne -- who gave his first thoughts on Ai Weiwei's detention to Eyeteeth readers -- pens a piece for Artinfo. Two snippets:
...I do not want to be free among individuals who value regression, fear, and stagnation — I want to be jailed with the villains. I want to be in detention with David Wojnarowicz, with Jean Genet, with Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, with Ai Weiwei. I'd rather be imprisoned with artists, intellectuals, and citizens whose work and actions makes us think and question rather than bend over with a smile to the oppression of convention....

...[Ai's] art is his ability to be a poet, a sculptor, a politician, an architect, a merchant, an activist, a citizen, a trickster. Ai Weiwei is the fou du roi, the sole person who is authorized to poke at the king because the king knows that his position is only as powerful as his acceptance of the critic. The minute the buffoon is silenced, the king is naked, and the king knows that it is not pretty...
• Vergne says he's taking part in Sunday's sit-in protest, a Creative Time project that's happening at 1 pm local time at Chinese embassies worldwide. Find locations here.

• More disappearances: Liu Xiaoyuan, a lawyer with ties to Ai, has been missing since Thursday night, The Guardian reports, and designer Liu Zhenggang, who works for Ai's wife's company FAKE, has been detained by plainclothes police.

• Bozidar Brazda, writing on Ai a few days ago, mentions China's so-called "50-Cent Army," a group I suspect is active on Reddit: "[M]embers of China's online 50-Cent Army (so named for the half dollar they earn per pro-CCP comment that they post) claim that Weiwei masterminded his own arrest and that it is indeed a work of art, a suggestion that gives the whole affair a kind of Enter Through The Gift Shop -- by way of Kafka -- vibe."

• China has refused to grant a visa to German author and scholar Tilman Spengler, who was scheduled to be part of the early April opening of the art exhibition Age of Enlightenment in Beijing. His crime: he praised imprisoned Nobel-prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Some MPs in Germany are calling for the exhibition to be shut down following Ai Weiwei's arrest: While featuring works from three German museums and receiving funding from the German government, the show represents anything but Enlightenment values, the MPs say.

• CNNGo looks at the active response to Ai's detention by artists in Hong Kong.

• One year ago, The Art Newspaper trumpeted the exhibition as "bold and timely," noting China's "blazing resurgence." From the April 2010 edition:
China’s leaders recognise that culture can buy goodwill abroad. High profile exchanges like the Enlightenment exhibition can convey openness and sensitivity as well as confidence.
• The petition: 84,000 voices and counting.


Ai Weiwei Update: 04.14.11

Ai Weiwei on the Met's roof; photo: Alison Klayman

• Ai Weiwei, whose art frequently features his own outstretched middle finger pointed at centers of power, including Tiananmen Square, is "confessing" to his crimes. That according to a Beijing-controlled paper in Hong Kong. The Wen Po claims Ai "has had quite a good attitude in co-operating with the investigation and has begun to confess," adding that the artist -- in detention since Apr. 3 -- is suspected of bigamy, tax evasion and distributing pornography. Ai's family, naturally, says the report is absurd.

• Hong Kong police are trying to track down who's behind the "Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei" graffiti that's been appearing there.

• Amnesty: China has targeted around 100 human rights activists. Meanwhile, 21-year old student Wei Qiang, who worked in Ai's studio, has been sentenced to "two years of re-education through labor" for attending a pro-democracy demonstration, The Australian reports.

Der Spiegel interviews a defensive Meinhard von Gerkan, the German architect who designed the National Museum of China on Tiananmen Square. He says China today isn't as bad as East Germany was. "I experienced the East German system up close, because I studied in Berlin. What I experienced at the time -- the level of inhuman behavior -- doesn't exist in China by a long shot," he says. Der Spiegel's reply: "Ai Weiwei, the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and many others in similar positions would probably disagree."

• "Something historically obscene is happening here," writes Jonathan Jones. "It is as if different times exist simultaneously. In one time-stream, democracy is in global demand and artists including Ai Weiwei are revealing the richness of China's culture to the world. Yet in the sinister second stream it is 1950, and dissidents can be blackguarded and bullied with total impunity by a system that takes Orwell's 1984 as a handbook."

• More dualities in a great piece by another Jones -- Colin -- in Dissent, who quotes a 2009 Ai interview: “On the one hand, the prime minister would memorize my father’s poetry in front of the great public, but on the other hand, the police were, you know, following me. So it’s hard to say.” Read "The Purge of Ai Weiwei."

• In a 2010 interview, Ai said, "I have to speak for the generation, or generations, who doesn't have a chance to speak out... Also I have to speak out for people around me who are afraid, who think it is not worth it or who have totally given up hope. So I want to set an example: you can do it and this is OK, to speak out."

• Video: Alison Klayman's Ai Weiwei: New York Photographs, 1983-1993 (20 min.).

• The Times blogs about Creative Time's Sunday protest, which is based on Ai's 2007 Documenta installation in which he set out 1001 Qing Dynasty chairs. This time, the plan is for it to be happening worldwide in front of Chinese embassies and using all kinds of chairs. (If you're going, please feel free to share photos with me. Email paul [at] eyeteeth [dot] org.)

NE Mpls street-art: OBEY-style lucha libre mask?

wheatepaste by Eyeteeth.org

Anyone know anything about this wheatpaste poster in Northeast Minneapolis? Looks like a Shepard Fairey–inspired jack-o-lantern or luchador mask. Or maybe an Obey-style Mexican wrestler pumpkin...

Update: On Twitter Carl Atiya Swanson shares another shot of the poster, which in this version has the word "Lucha" underneath it, seen at 25th and Stevens in South Minneapolis. So much for my pumpkin theory... (Thanks, Nallo.)

Update: Now I'm wondering if it's by Luis Fitch of UNO marketing. It looks an awful lot like this. UNO's Luis Fitch seems to be a big lucha libre fan.


This Sunday: 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, Fairytale, 2007

An email from Creative Time:
A question posted on Facebook about what we, as an arts community, can do to support the safe release of Ai Weiwei sparked great ideas, including one by curator Steven Holmes to reenact Ai Weiwei's project Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs—an installation which was comprised of 1001 late Ming and Qing Dynasty wooden chairs at Documenta 12 in 2007 in Kassel, Germany—in front of Chinese embassies and consulates around the world. This Sunday, April 17, at 1 PM local time, supporters are invited to participate in 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei, by bringing a chair and gathering outside Chinese embassies and consulates to sit peacefully in support of the artist's immediate release.
Artist and activist Ai Weiwei is an internationally regarded figure who has fought for artistic freedom and for freedom of speech throughout his distinguished career, envisioning and shaping a more just and equitable society through his work. He has been missing since his arrest on April 3rd in Beijing. Referencing the spirit of his work, 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei calls for his immediate release, supporting the right of artists to speak and work freely in China and around the world.
To participate, find an embassy near you.

Bits: 04.13.11

Portland sidewalk stencil via pdxgraffiti

Animal NY: "[T]he Yes Men, posing as General Electric, issued a press release announcing that the company would be 'gifting its entire 2010 tax refund, worth $3.2 Billion, to the US Treasury on April 18, Tax Day.' Which is funny, cause last year they paid no taxes, despite profits exceeding $14 billion. Amazingly, the AP ran with the bogus story." Business Insider has more.

• A man in France is suing Facebook because his account was suspended after he changed his profile picture to Gustave Courbet's 1886 painting, L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World), which is essentially a close-up of a woman's nether regions. Gawker writes that "he's demanding Facebook immediately reinstate his account and 'compensate him in a substantial manner'—he presumably wants that compensation in vagina-painting form."

• The federal budget deal includes cuts to the arts, Tyler Green reports, including $13 million for for the National Endowment for the Arts, $13 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities, $8 million that would've gone to renovations at the National Gallery of Art, and $7 million from the budget of the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs grant program.

• And the 2011 Muzzle Award goes to... Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough for removing David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly video from the National Portrait Gallery exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. (Ok, he's really number 3 in the annual project of The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.)

• The Walker launches a smart blog feature, Book/share, in which book buyer Paul Schumacher marks up new finds with Post-It notes and sends them on to blogger Kristina Fong.

• Rickrolled! Oregon legislators slip lyrics from Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" into floor speeches.

Ai Weiwei Update: 04.13.11

• Video: Alison Klaymon, creator of the documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, introduces us to 38-year old Global Times journalist Wen Tao (pictured), a friend of Ai Weiwei's who was taken by plainclothes police hours after Ai was detained on Apr. 3; his whereabouts remain unknown, and no charges have been announced against him.

• Shortly before his arrest, Ai was reportedly invited, twice, to be part of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), "an advisory body made up of non-Communist party members, including high-profile figures such as artists and athletes." The body's role is "to engage influential figures outside the party." Ai's response to that query isn't known.

• Director Madeleine Grynsztejn and others at the MCA Chicago have signed on to the Guggenheim Foundation petition calling for Ai's release. The petition now has nearly 69,000 signatures.

• Artist An Xiao Mina is counting the hours since Ai's disappearance at 8:04 AM China Standard Time on Apr. 3 by placing one sunflower seed in a jar for each hour.

• Beijing-based political writer Russell Leigh Moses asks whether the Chinese Communist party has given up on reform.

• "Who's afraid of Ai Weiwei" stencils are appearing in Hong Kong.

• Random factoid: Ai reportedly has "ridiculous blackjack skills," and blackjack players are angered by his detention.

• Eerie to see Ai's Twitter feed -- home to more than 60,000 tweets -- silent. His last entry: April 3.

Ai Weiwei Update: 04.11.11
Ai Weiwei Update: 04.12.11

Fox commentator: Fear the color pink!!

Be very afraid! Of the color pink.

That's the message from a Fox commentator, who pens a 675-word reaction to an image on the J. Crew website of a male toddler with pink toenail polish. The company's art director, Jenna Lyons, says in the accompanying text, “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.”

Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist, co-author of a Glenn Beck book and Fox opiner, sounds the alarm!

Yeah, well, it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your “innocent” pleasure.

This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such “psychological sterilization” [my word choice] is not known.

Later he writes, "These folks are hostile to the gender distinctions that actually are part of the magnificent synergy that creates and sustains the human race. They respect their own creative notions a whole lot more than any creative Force in the universe."

Meanwhile, the rightwing "Culture and Media Institute" dials it up even more, calling the J. Crew promo "blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children." J. Crew, writes Erin R. Brown, "apparently does not mind exploiting Beckett behind the façade of liberal, transgendered identity politics... Propaganda pushing the celebration of gender-confused boys wanting to dress and act like girls is a growing trend, seeping into mainstream culture."

Brown's organization, the media wing of the conservative Media Research Center, has a mission to "preserve and help restore America’s culture, character, traditional values, and morals against the assault of the liberal media elite, and to promote fair portrayal of social conservatives and religious believers in the media."

Via The Advocate.


"Hanksy" wheatpaste

ha.  by mittsuniverseBanksy-style Tom Hanks wheatpaste spotted by Flickr user Mittsuniverse.

Ai Weiwei Update: 04.12.11

Installation of PLATOON's Free Ai Weiwei project in Berlin

China is "unhappy" that the international community is rallying around Ai Weiwei. "The Chinese people also feel baffled -- why do some people in some countries treat a crime suspect as a hero?" Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. I suppose Ai, too, is "unhappy." What with being kidnapped without charge and prevented from contacting his family and all.

• The New Yorker's Beijing reporter Evan Osnos looks into "whether the world is paying undue attention to his case, in light of the fact, the argument goes, that the vast majority of the Chinese public has never heard of him. Does the fact that Ai’s professional impact is overwhelmingly felt abroad mean that the world is overstating the importance of his detention—and disregarding the more widespread, routine concerns of the Chinese people?" (It's true that Ai's detention has gotten far more attention than have disappearances of countless lesser known activists, writers, artists -- including photographer Guo Gai, who I'll have more on soon -- and regular citizens.)

• Chinese officials are now questioning Lu Qing, Ai's wife, and asking her to produce tax documents, more evidence that the government is looking into Ai's financial dealings. Trouble is, Lu couldn't produce the documents because law enforcement has already confiscated the family's papers.

• The Guardian also reports that Wen Tao, Ai's friend, is unaccounted for since he was detained at the same time as Ai. "On Monday assistants from the studio said Ai's accountant and driver, Ms Hu and Zhang Jingsong – also known as Xiao Pang – had gone missing." Finally, supporters say architect and designer Liu Zhenggang, a collaborator of Ai's, has also been missing since Ai was taken.

• Walker Art Center director Olga Viso, who gave us her comment on Ai's detention last week, follows up with a blog post in which she urges readers to sign the Guggenheim Foundation's petition, which at nearly 30,000 signers has "tremendous momentum."

• The Christian Science Monitor: Five famous jailed dissidents in China

Earlier: Ai Weiwei Update: 04.11.11

David Byrne on Crist suit: I'm one of the "few artists who has the bucks and cojones to challenge" copyright infringement by candidates

Last May, David Byrne explained why he was suing Florida Senate candidate and then-governor Charlie Crist for the unauthorized use of the Talking Heads' "Road to Nowhere" in a campaign video:
"I still believe songs occasionally mean something to people — they obviously mean something personal to the writer, and often to the listener as well. A personal and social meaning is diluted when that same song is used to sell a product (or a politician). If Crist and his campaign folks had asked to use the song, I would have said no."
Byrne, who settled with Crist and his campaign, today:
“I was shocked to discover, while working out our settlement, that the use of songs for political ads is pretty rampant. It turns out I am one of the few artists who has the bucks and cojones to challenge such usage - I'm feeling very manly after my trip to Tampa! Other artists may actually have the anger but not want to take the time and risk the legal bills. I am lucky that I can do that. Anyway, my hope is that by standing up to this practice maybe it can be made to be a less common option, or better yet an option that is never taken in the future.”
While details of the financial part of the settlement haven't been released, apparently a video apology from Crist was part of the deal:

Photo: Wikipedia