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Ai Weiwei on How Art Comes Alive – ArtReview

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The artist and human rights activist discusses the power of writing, the poetry of his father, and the artworld’s self-serving ideologies

Contemporary artist and human-rights activist Ai Weiwei came to international prominence for his open criticism of the Chinese government’s autocratic rule and its human rights policies, a position that resulted in the state’s efforts to silence his condemnations via sustained intimidation, a 2009 attack by the police that left him with a brain haemorrhage and a three-month imprisonment in 2011. Following the unannounced demolition of his Beijing studio in 2018 by local authorities, Ai relocated to Berlin. His memoir 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows (2021) tells the story of China’s political and social history over the last century through the intertwined experiences of Ai and his father, the renowned modernist poet Ai Qing, who was exiled for two decades, including a period of hard labour in Xinjiang.

ArtReview How did you approach writing 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows?

Ai Weiwei I always need to be balanced: to not get too emotionally involved and to be a little bit cool in tone. Otherwise the emotions are often overwhelming. On the one hand because the book spans 100 years of China’s history (and that’s a large period to cover) – but on the other because it reflects the history of two people: me and my father. I wanted it to be balanced so that it wasn’t too much about us, but rather sets our stories within a historical context.

AR How do you see the relationship between writing and making art?

AWW Ideally they should be one. As someone who has always been interested in conceptual art, I have always thought the form and concept should be undivided. It would be too arrogant or misleading to just give a form without a clear conceptual interpretation of the work. If it’s just about the words, it can be too obvious and dry: it doesn’t have charm. It needs to be balanced. Artworks can have specific meanings but can be vague and abstract at the same time. For me, writing is like a clear measurement of how far you can go with an idea: it’s black words on white paper; there’s a clear definition.

AR You’ve previously said that you hate ‘hidden meanings’. But your artwork does have a lot of hidden meanings…

AWW That’s the nature of art. It has to be able to be interpreted by itself and often it has multiple meanings. But that’s why I need to write. For me, writing is part of the art practice because it sets a clear meaning. However, it doesn’t have the same emotion as the artwork. That’s why I have to have both.

Ai Weiwei, An Archive, 2015 (installation view at Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney). © Ai Weiwei Studio. Courtesy Lisson Gallery

AR Your father, Ai Qing, was a renowned modernist poet, and in your book you mention these handwritten messages that were placed in public known as Big-character Posters, some examples of which were used by the state to denounce your father, but also one written anonymously by someone called Mechanic No. 0538, who used this format to criticise Mao Zedong – did language play a role in your becoming an artist and the process behind your practice?

AWW I think language has had a very profound impact on my work. When my father wrote poetry he was very careful in selecting his vocabulary, as are all poets. So that method of using a limited number of words to carry a powerful idea has always been very attractive to me – to see how language functions. I think, with any form of art practice, control is a crucial skill. So choosing words, form, materials carefully is the best means of expression. And expression itself is a selection of emotions and concepts. That process reflects the uniqueness of any individual work. It’s not about fitting all your ideas into one thing, but about reducing it and in fact excluding certain emotions and concepts.

AR Is that opposite to the way you grew up absorbing words and phrases used in Communist propaganda that were taught to you at school? Because there was an expectation that you would accept these ideas given by the state without question?

AWW Yes. I think it’s about trying to limit yourself from becoming another kind of propagandist. It’s about saying something carefully but also acting on it. And to act on the ideas is crucial, otherwise they just become antiwords. They function with no meaning.

Ai Weiwei, Trace, 2014, Lego. © Ai Weiwei Studio. Courtesy Lisson Gallery

AR How do you act on your ideas?

AWW I try to use different media: writing for social media, making videos, films and images, installations or even using pieces of Lego. Firstly, there is a challenge in understanding a particular medium; it takes a great effort to learn to control materials – whether it’s porcelain-making or Chinese carpentry – as well as knowledge of how these materials have been used throughout history. Secondly, you have to find the right material for the right concept. For example I used Lego for Trace (2014), a series of portraits of political prisoners, because it was necessary to give all the images the same kind of quality; at the same time, it was important to show they are distinct from one another – and Lego felt like the perfect medium for this. Similarly, with Sunflower Seeds (2010), porcelain has a huge tradition in Jingdezhen [where the work was fabricated by 1,600 artisans over a period of two-and-a-half years]: every woman knows how to make porcelain, which involves a very sophisticated process, but they make them just like they make dumplings. That’s the beauty of it. You have one hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds, but at the same time, it’s just like how every Chinese household would put dumplings in their wok and boil it. I still think of it as a miracle. But in every artwork, each different medium takes the same kind of effort to make sure that the aesthetic and moral work together to communicate an idea. To act on an idea is to make art, because the fight for freedom is part of freedom.

Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, 2010, 100 million hand painted ceramic seeds. © Ai Weiwei Studio. Courtesy Lisson Gallery

AR And what’s been your most important act so far?

AWW The most important thing I have done is to set up different ways of communicating social and political issues, and not just doing something that is self-indulgent, but rather to test if that expression really functions as a way of reflecting humanity and human dignity. If you took away my writing – the blogs, the social media messages, the book – my so-called artwork would fall apart. It’s like flesh and bones. To be alive, we have to have these connected structures of bones and tissue. That’s how my art comes alive.

AR Do you think your written ideas have a greater impact than your artworks?

AWW That is very hard to measure, partly because this book has just come out. I used to think people liked watching films, and I made so many films. But it depends on the circumstance, because in China, people love to watch films, but in the West, no one goes to theatres anymore – they just react quickly to social-media images. So the book really hasn’t been tested yet in the West. I used to write blogs in China, which were extremely popular. I believe that is the reason for the police brutality and attention from the state. If I had just made the artworks, I wouldn’t have had a problem. Even in detention, the interrogators never asked me about my artworks, except for when I flipped the finger at Tiananmen [Study in Perspective – Tiananmen, 1995]. I told them I did it to the White House too, but the interrogator said, ‘I’m a Chinese policeman, I’m taking care of my duties, and if you did that to the White House, the US police should take care of that’. So, basically, in prison they read my blogs to me as evidence of subverting state power; the texts were critical of the Chinese government and of the party. They even asked me to reread them, and asked me if I agreed with their judgment. I said, ‘I do.’

Ai Weiwei, from the series Study of Perspective, 1995-2011 / 2014, 40 black-and-white and colour C-prints / diasec. © Ai Weiwei Studio. Courtesy Lisson Gallery

AR Do you feel there’s a connection between your and your father’s writing?

AWW Well, his writing was very calm with good intentions, and my writing is quite brutal and harsh. He faced 20 years of exile; the police told me that I’d have been killed if I had been writing during that time. But it’s very clear that our experiences correlate in some ways, I think.

My father went to Paris before he was twenty years old, to become an artist and poet; I went to New York to study. We have both been subject to the enforcement of state laws as individuals who have spoken our minds. I feel proud to be identified as an individual who can still defend freedom of expression.

AR Since moving to the West, do you see any ways in which the power structures here reflect some of those in China?

AWW I think China is clearly a very authoritarian society, and that has been the history of the country for 2,000–3,000 years. It never really changed. But for the past 200 years, the West has undergone an Industrial Revolution, and before that there was the Renaissance. Democratic systems were established in the West, but capitalism is a competing structure that creates different problems. In the West, on the surface, there’s liberty and individual freedom and an encouragement of people’s so-called creativity, but the world is so much controlled by corporate culture that those ideas are economically challenged because the corporate powers hide within the political, educational and media structures. So here we’re facing a very different structural problem.

AR And how does that impact the artworld?

AWW I think the artworld is basically dominated by certain ideologies that are self-serving, and capital-oriented. Artworks have to be recognised by important dealers and galleries, and have to be bought by collectors, which might then be donated to museums. It means sacrificing a huge amount of education and effort and creativity to fit into that system, in which it seems impossible to achieve success. In the West, education is fixated on telling people how to become successful – those ideas are taught in school education and through mainstream value judgements. That is the problem. It’s a pollutant, and opposite to the idea of the individual.

From the December 2021 issue of ArtReview

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The LA Art Show Returns With an Environmental Focus – Surface Magazine

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Environmental issues have taken on a particular urgency in the past year. Climate scientists have warned that if nations fail to immediately pivot from fossil fuels, catastrophic consequences await. Artists frequently reckon with this grim reality, with many expressing skepticism—if not outright anger—at climate inaction, which has resulted in the destruction of coral reefs, intense wildfires, rising sea levels, and the extinction of beloved animal species. The issues surrounding climate change have become top of mind for The LA Art Show, which is kicking off the city’s eagerly anticipated 2022 art season with a newfound ecological lens thanks to the return of DIVERSEartLA.

This year’s edition, which kicks off today at the Los Angeles Convention Center, sheds light not only on how artists represent the environment in their work, but how humanity’s role factors into the equation. “DIVERSEartLA 2022 will encourage visitors to confront the complex challenges of our global climate crisis and imagine potential solutions,” says Marisa Caichiolo, the show’s curator, who encouraged participating art museums to partner with science and environmental institutions. “This topic is at the heart of a growing number of art narratives, including exhibitions built with high-tech innovations designed to inspire artistic appreciation and the desire to respond to environmental challenges, reinforcing the value of translating environmental advocacy into art.” 

Among the programming highlights is “Our turn to change,” a worry-inducing video installation by Andrea Juan and Gabriel Penedo Diego and presented by the Museum of Nature of Cantabria Spain that awakens viewers to melting polar ice caps that are causing sea levels to rise drop by drop. The Torrance Art Museum, meanwhile, presents “Memorial to the Future,” a collaborative piece curated by Max Presneill that centers Brutalist architecture as a failed model of idealism while highlighting the immediate need for environmental action. And in “The Earth’s Fruits” by Guillermo Anselmo Vezzosi, waste unexpectedly takes on a dignified second life. 

The LA Art Show opens at the Los Angeles Convention Center, South Hall, from Jan. 19–23. 

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300-pound local art heist took 4 minutes | News | pentictonherald.ca – pentictonherald.ca

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300-pound local art heist took 4 minutes | News | pentictonherald.ca  pentictonherald.ca



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At Art Basel, FLUF Haus Breaks Barrier Between Metaverse And Physical World – Forbes

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Last month, while the cultural elite wrapped up Art Basel with the usual lavish purchases of Keith Herring paintings and Daniel Arsham decayed sculptures, a different crowd had gathered just a couple blocks down the South Beach coastline. The world’s first “Metaverse star” was about to perform.

FLUF Haus, the first in-person gathering for a community of virtual 3D Rabbits (known as Flufs), was hosting a concert for the music star known as “Angelbaby”—a large tattooed pink rabbit whose identity, appearance, and music had been created entirely on the metaverse.

Despite Angelbaby’s entirely virtual existence, some 600 people—largely stakeholders in the NFT community, FLUF World—had flown from across the globe to witness the in-person debut. A projection screen overlooked the dance floor where guests including Trinidad James and Boyz Noise commingled amidst fire breathers and models. Screens scattered throughout the venue displayed various Fluf avatars, broken up by animated scenes from FLUF World.

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The event—which felt like a bit of a coming out party for newly created FLUF World—underscored a crucial, often overlooked detail of the booming NFT space: community.

“The most important thing to me with FLUF World was the Discord.” said Robert Hellauer, a 33-year old financial analyst who became a Fluf holder in September.  “I went to all the Discords, and all the metaverses have a different vibe…And you could just feel the energy with this one.”

Like the notorious Bored Apes or CryptoPunks, the value of a Fluf isn’t just as a piece of digital art, but as a digital identity. Much like how Supreme or Thrasher did for skaters, NFTs codify culture into appearance, branding one’s allegiance to virtual clans and online subcultures. Buying into a community, literally, helps carve out one’s metaverse identity. FLUF World recognized this early on, and decided to intentionally avoid the toxicity present in many virtual worlds, instead focusing on creating a dynamic and inclusive world to house their digital animal characters.

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This appeal of intentional community has seemingly paid off, as many at Fluf World expressed having previous interest in the metaverse, but hadn’t yet found a space that appealed to them.

“These guys think about things other guys don’t,” says Tom Soler, a software manager attending the event. “Decentraland launched way ahead but it feels very empty. These guys have thought through what is the most engaging way to create a community for people who want to hang together.”

This engagement is reflected in Fluf World’s 42,000 member Discord where “#new-fluffers are greeted with a reminder to “treat each other with respect”, and after searching through the Fluf Radio and sales channels can navigate to the “Above Ground” section, to find channels such as #health-and-wellness, and #time-to-talk.

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That’s not to overlook the draw of Fluf World’s impressive technology and artistic detail. Rather than use 8-bit images or 2D cartoons, Fluf World features fully 3D characters designed by animators who’ve worked on projects including Avatar and the Lord of The Rings trilogy.  Characters hover over customizable, multi-dimensional environments—which include both personalized character music and location based-backgrounds that range from a desert to futuristic city (collectively known as “scenes and sounds”). 

Along with the 10,000 original rabbit ‘Flufs’, FLUF World introduced their second line of characters —known as Party Bears— of which all 10,000 sold out in under 10 minutes. Beyond avatars, stakeholders can also purchase virtual real estate known as “burrows”, and even AI-brained spiders (known as “thingies”) which use pattern recognition to create and mint their own new virtual art. All of Fluf World’s characters constantly evolve, and often contain hidden attributes that develop and reveal themselves over time.  

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Together, this technology, art, and community channels weave together a digital world that shows promise of true depth; an online space with the potential to create a self-perpetuating cycle of growth based on bottom-up user participation. 

“When it comes to other [metaverse] platforms, it’s all about roadmaps,” says FLUF World superfan Nick Synodis, (who goes by the handle Knux). “Fluf is in a league of its own. Its competitor is Spotify. It’s Facebook.”

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A Record Label For The Metaverse

One of the most promising examples of FLUF World’s potential to be a truly dynamic multi-channel world is their partnership with NFT music collective, Hume. 

Described by co-founders Jay Stolar and David Beiner as the “Web3 version of a record label,” Hume is the NFT music minting service that allows Flufs to commercially own and display exclusive music snippets in their character environment. With a tagline of “we are hume. we are many,” Hume has the most active twitter following in the Fluf World community, acting as both differentiator and hype builder for the virtual world.  

“We’re creating music-driven Metastars,” says record producer Gino the Ghost, the event’s emcee and Hume evangelist. “The next Billie Eilish or Drake is gonna be in the metaverse.” 

Asked what made him interested in migrating his experience from the traditional music realm, Gino (who has composed music for the likes of rapper Saweetie) expressed both an ardent fascination with FLUF World, as well as sharing a commonly held frustration with the revenue structure of the music industry.

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​​”What I primarily do, I work with the pop side, the rap side, the dance side —and they all want to know,  ‘How do I get into NFTs?’ All these creatives are so tired of the labels and the royalties—and music NFTs are a way out that isn’t cash-grabby.”

With the creation of their metaverse star Angelbaby, Gino and the founders at Hume are optimistic that Web3 could create a paradigm shift not just in how artists generate revenue, but how fans can benefit from their artist loyalty. In this case for instance, by financially supporting Angelbaby’s origin story (which involved being lost in the desert after being transported 1000 years back in time), fans received some of Angelbaby’s original minted music. This music in turn grows in value as Angelbaby’s popularity rises. 

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“People who helped Angelbaby in the desert, now they all own a piece of their song that is worth $400-500. Over time this increases the value of their own NFT,” says Beiner.  

Gino explains the relationship a bit more simply: “It a way for fans to make fucking money supporting their favorite artists.”

World Competition, or Synergy?

As Gino’s introduction wraps up and Angelbaby’s giant character is projected onto a screen in front of a sea of cellphone recordings, one aspect of FLUF Haus becomes immediately clear: it’s surprisingly normal. 

For all the talk of Web3 and NFTs the metaverse, the event feels much like any other concert—with people dancing in close quarters, and having a good time with people they know. Save for the fact that the performing artist is a 13-foot tall pink rabbit with no known human identity, you’d be hard pressed to know this was an NFT event. 

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And in a way, that’s kind of the point. As virtual representations of ourselves continue to grow—and the metaverse becomes increasingly populated—so too inevitably will our online identities. But that doesn’t mean we will forgo our personalities in the physical world. Like gamertags, or bitmojis or animal crossing islands, spaces like FLUF World will add another layer onto our beings that enhance, not replace our existing lives. FLUF Haus was trying to demonstrate that connection to the world. 

“The meta verse is going to be this amazing digital space,” says Knux. “But the ultimate goal of it is to live in both worlds.”

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