Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

There’s a rumpled messiness, an unfinished quality, to both the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and the biographical documentary “Never Sorry.” Ai rose to prominence in China by working within the system; the government even commissioned him to work on the Bird’s Nest given pride of place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But after the devastating earthquake that killed 70,000 in Sichuan province, including 5,000 schoolchildren, Ai gained international fame with his multimedia projects commemorating the young victims and implicating the state, with its poorly constructed schoolhouses, in their deaths.

“Never Sorry” director Alison Klayman focuses more on Ai’s social protests than his visual art, but this seems apposite in the case of an artist whose enduring legacy will be one of performance art, not in the Marina Abramovic sense but in the sense of a high-wire act of calculated risks and deeply courageous defiance grounded in optimism that people who get a taste of freedom will not easily relinquish it. I’ve always had a soft spot for the mischievous and the larger than life; Ai Weiwei exemplifies that spirit by living a life of momentary danger and uncertainty, laughing wistfully in the face of repression. It’s both encouraging and frightening that we don’t know what will happen next.

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