The second piece from my Harmonizing a Han Dynasty Urn triptych will appear in the Kentucky.7 Biennial from July 27th to September 9th.
More information is available here: http://www.lexingtonartleague.org/current.html
On April 3rd, 2011, Ai Weiwei was detained while leaving China on business.
While the claim is that he is being held because of tax evasion, very few people believe that is the real reason.
The series I was working on at the time (and am still working on) was digitally erasing things from other works, so that lead to progressively removing Weiwei from his ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn‘ triptych.
My reworkings were complete on the 16th of April.
China restricts information about its unpopular people, so even though in the rest of the world Ai Weiwei is China’s most famous artist, very few people within China have heard of him. After his arrest this was further curtailed, so that Internet searches for his name, behind the great firewall, do not produce results.
Instead of having my reworkings of his photographs printed as photos, I chose instead to have them turned into oil paints. For my other erasures, I had explored the ‘oil painting factory’ phenomenon in China, but mostly out of convenience. In this instance however, the idea of commissioning someone to paint something that they are not supposed to know about appealed to me. I had hoped through this process the artist might begin to wonder both ‘Who is this man?’ (especially as he is obviously Chinese) as well as ‘Where has he gone?’ (as we were all wondering).
I found an artist on a Chinese auction site who sells the service of painting reproductions of photos; most of the work shown was of families and pets. I hired her to do the work. She had never heard of Ai Weiwei. Though warned that there might be some risk in accepting this commission, she was excited for the opportunity and to have a foreign client.
The finished versions of the pieces were completed today, 5/27, and the images she sent me of them are below. They are the same size as the originals (148 × 121 cm each). Please join me in hoping that they make it out of China quickly and easily.
During the month it took her to repaint the works, she did come to know who Ai Weiwei is.
In the first version of the ‘finished’ paintings I received, it appeared that the third was half finished, the bricks at the top had some definition, and the rest of the painting was very rough. It was almost as if her finding out what she was repainting had occurred halfway through, and she had stopped and tried to represent it as finished. This impression was strengthened as the images were accompanied by a request for a letter stating that these were my ideas and that she was responsible for none of the content. I was happy to provide such a letter, and she was gracious enough to finish the work properly without complaint.
Even though we have a brief report of Ai Weiwei’s situation, he is still being detained almost entirely without contact, and nothing has been heard from his assistants at all. It is extremely important that we stand with them, and engage the issue in as many ways as we can. A China that erases people who are working only towards what is best for the Chinese people is in no one’s best interest, and they must not be allowed to do so.