Protected by pictures

Protected by pictures

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An interview with Ai Weiwei in the cellar of Munich’s Haus der Kunst, as the artist was preparing to turn the place into a battlefield. With Hanno Rauterberg

What would megalomaniac modesty look like? Is there such a thing as relaxed rebellion? A state of peace which is all get up and go. Well Ai Weiwei certainly exists. An artist who is not afraid to take on the mightiest of enemies, the dictators in Beijing. Who demands democracy at the top of his voice, freedom of speech, equal rights for all! Who refuses to be silenced, even if they lock him up, even if the police break down his door in the middle of the night and beat him to the ground, as they did just recently. He kept up the protest , even as the blood pured down his face, pulling out his camera and photographing the the police as they carried him off. It looks likes a family outing. The whole world should see this image: the terror and the un-terrified.

And now he’s sitting here in front of me, a man of substance and pride, yet so completely withdrawn into himself. His voice, a whisper, his eyes flitting about the room. “I was so shy in school,” he will tell me later, “that I’d blush every time someone looked at me.” A man, who now has so many eyes trained on him, whose voice is heard like no other, a man who is probably the most famous fighter of injustice in the whole of China.

“I’m an ordinary person, very ordinary,” he says and rubs his fac eyes light upe vigorously with both hands. “It was nothing to do with me,” he says. “It was the others, the interviews. I’m probably the most interviewed person in China.” Then he smiles for the first time, shrugs his shoulders cautiously, a shrug of wonder – how peculiar, why me?

Right now, the most interviewed person in the whole of China, is living in the cellar, in the catacombs of a Nazi palace in Munich. There, in the Haus der Kunst, which was built between 1933 and 1937, he has made himself at home for a few weeks, setting up camp with a 20-man team on folding beds all crammed into four rooms, to prepare for his first ever major exhibition worldwide, which opens on October 12. He has everything he needs down there, armchairs, TV, computer, close friends, a cook. He has effortlessly transformed this fortress into a cheerful shared apartment. Every now and tempting smells of Chinese food waft up into the museum halls, a museum attendant tells me.

“I’m not really a fan of museums, it so often feels as if they only display the corpses from long forgotten wars. We want to do something else here. We want to turn the Haus der Kunst into a battlefield.”

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