Under the current circumstances, the artist could not give us his own statement. In his stead, Dr. John Tancock of Chambers Fine Art in interview with Jason Stopa. Chambers Fine Art represents Ai Weiwei in Beijing and New York.
Jason Stopa: Ai Weiwei has undergone several trials in the past seven months. From the demolition of his studio by the authorities to detention for tax evasion, it is clear that Weiwei is seen as threat in China. China is known for “silencing” former detainees by way of surveillance and wire-taps. Do you think any of this will taper his political and artistic pursuits?
John Tancock: As Ai Weiwei has matured; the political aspect of his work has become increasingly significant. For obvious reasons, he is not at the moment allowed to make any public statements, but there is every reason to believe that his artistic pursuits will continue unabated. His current situation vis-à-vis the government cannot continue indefinitely and it is difficult to predict what might happen in years to come.
JS: Luc Tuymans has said that Ai’s story contains “an element of martyrdom.” Ai’s father, an avant-garde poet, was exiled and sent to a labor camp while he was still a baby. Given his radical views and anti-authoritarian work, do you think that Ai was destined to have a confrontation play out?
JT: It is surely as a result of his family background that Ai Weiwei chose to follow the path that led to his incarceration. If he had chosen to, like most of his contemporaries, he could very well have elected to ignore politics altogether and enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle. Without question, he knew that he was taking risks but he thought they were risks worth taking. But I would say that the word “martyrdom” in its religious connotations is inappropriate to describe his very carefully considered political stance.
JS: How has the public’s reception of Ai’s work changed over the last year? Has the gallery found itself caught in the middle of a conflict between a country and a great contemporary artist?
JT: In the past few years there has been increasing international admiration for Ai Weiwei both as an artist and as a courageous individual. The events of the last year have focused even more attention on the work itself, as for a time it was not clear how much more he would be able to produce. No, we have not been caught in the conflict since in a situation like this it is clear where our sympathies lie.
JS: How would you summarize Ai’s artistic legacy?
JT: It is too soon to talk about his legacy since he is back at work! Ai Weiwei is an artist in his prime, constantly challenging himself and his public. Without question, his work will be a major influence on younger artists in years to come, not so much visually as conceptually. The unprecedented situation in which he finds himself at present seems likely to create a period of greater introspection from which major works can be expected to emerge.