Ai Wei-Wei is seeding the flowers of revolution in the grounds of justice.
He leans back in the chair on the patio under the soft sunlight while his friend fusses around on a smart phone, arguing that Ai Wei-Wei himself said that political art cannot be art. Eyes lidded, his rotund gut supporting folded arms, Wei-Wei agrees with his friend. “Yes, but my case changed that,” he says. In summary, he argues that by virtue of himself being politicized by the Chinese Communist Party, all of his work is now political, that he is very influential, and has a power more extraordinary than the State. Ai Wei-Wei then falls asleep like a docile puppy.
It is hard to imagine that this person has become a great enough target of the CCP that he is now landlocked, has his passport confiscated, his money grabbed, and is facing a series of charges in the courts. They are seemingly erroneous charges of pornography and tax evasion. Chinese supporters delivered at least $1.5M (9 million Yuan) to meet the bail requirement of the court while he fought the charges. He insisted on fighting rather than settling, to stop them from setting a precedent or doing it to others.
Fake Ltd. is the art and design company owned and operated by prominent Chinese artist, Ai Wei-Wei, and the corporate target of the CCP. Throughout Andreas Johnsen’s 2013 film, The Fake Case, you see it all going down from his point of view. Things get very interesting when Wei-Wei sneaks up on surveillance agents (we see footage from his iPhone) and then engages in a high-speed chase, Wei-Wei’s driver now chasing them, and giggling about it.
One European friend of his points out that tax-evasion is a joke in China, because it is prevalent and corrupt across the board, so most Chinese people can see through the charges, however in Europe, tax-evasion holds weight and discredits Ai Wei-Wei among western masses. It struck me also that pornography is a charge that holds weight against conservative Chinese, but even to conservative western politicians, his work could never be argued as pornography. It is a two-part strategy of discrediting the man.
A future exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, will compare Wei-Wei and Warhol, for their international acclaim and iconic relationship to a generation of artists. That may be true, but I couldn’t help but compare him to comedian Lenny Bruce, whose career from 1948 until his untimely death in 1966 was riddled with conflict against the status quo, segregation, homophobia, and war, during which he was charged numerous times for obscenity and drug possession. Many people saw through the obscenity charges, but the drug busts humiliated Lenny. And for the final five years of his life, he would be embattled in the courts while his fortune depleted in legal expenses. Many believe he lost his mind toward the end, but I prefer to stress that his insight was experiential and his cultural role became monologist and satirist, not comedian.
Wei-Wei’s state-of-mind appears to go along similar lines, over a short period, you see matters become increasingly desperate. At first, there is optimism, this sense of great power, he has enough money to stomach the problem, there is a lot of publicity coming his way, though he is cautious all the time. Then they start tightening the ratchet on him. Claims of threats and the sudden resignation of financial staff members and most of his lawyers threaten the operation of Fake Ltd. His state of mind becomes more perturbed. This is when a person can start losing their mind.
The documentary is an update to Never Sorry, made by the same folks, tracking the years leading up to Wei-Wei’s arrest and solitary confinement in 2011. It doesn’t go into great detail about the facts of the case, but it provides an honest portrayal of the mythical man.
Scenes spanning about one year are stitched together with some explanation, updates of events, but mostly it is just the starkness of real life. Fantastic photographic cinema ties each scene together with precise and subtle editing. Despite the drama of the story, there is a nice, soothing experience to be had in watching this film. Space allotted by so much pause for beautiful imagery allows you to think about the story as it goes. By the end, you’ll know very little more than you knew starting, but you’ll probably have a genuine concern for the person and his cause, without that sappy feeling clouding your judgement.
The Fake Case screens one night only at Whitsell Auditorium, this Sunday at 4:30 PM. Ai Wei-Wei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, will be on display at Portland Art Museum until September 13th.