Ai Weiwei’s bravery makes me squirm.
I do try to be courageous and speak out against injustice and be a witness, but as Yoda says “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Ai Weiwei gives a lot of thought to his art and politics, but when pivotal moments arrive, he does not pause to think; he simply acts in accordance with his own beliefs and ethics. And he is constantly not only a participant but also an observer, filming and photographing events as they unfold, or staging events and participating in them before the camera.
Ai Weiwei is rooted in China, and despite harassment and persecution and imprisonment by the government, he refuses to even consider leaving. He knows he can put more pressure on the government, reach a larger audience, and have more effect in the world by staying in China to continue his work. I don’t know if I would be that strong, but the thing is, there are many points in this documentary where Ai Weiwei doesn’t look strong. He is plagued by the mental and physical sequelae of his imprisonment, and worn down by the constant surveillance, and yet it never seems to occur to him to back down or run away.
The documentary was one of those ones that seem slow and disjointed at first, and then the pieces start connecting together and you can see the story emerge. At the time I saw the film, I’d had three short nights in a row, so maybe I would have caught on to things a bit sooner if I’d been less tired.
About a year ago, I saw an earlier documentary about Ai Weiwei (“Never Sorry”), and it stayed with me. This one didn’t feel like a sequel, even though it started where the other one left off. Ai Weiwei’s imprisonment was such a disruption to his life and the lives of those around him that this seemed like a very different story. I am always interested in how people survive hard things and how those hardships affect how people then relate to others, make sense of their experiences, and think about the world. In Ai Weiwei’s case, this took the form of his conversations with his mother, friends, and peers, and the art he created out of the experience of imprisonment. (Spoiler: super creepy!)
I enjoyed this but I think I need to watch it again to catch everything. Perhaps after a good night’s sleep.
Saw it at Cinematheque at 100 Arthur Street in Winnipeg . There was cool art in the lobby that you could not get your head into but you could stick your hand in with a camera and snap a picture of the inside. The bromate and I shared popcorn with salt and vinegar and butter, and had some drinks and chocolate on the side. Parking was surprisingly easy for a Sunday, maybe because of all the rain. The seats at Cinematheque are quite comfy compared to standard commercial movie theatres, and the place is always clean. Halfway through the show, I discovered a caterpillar (I hope) on my neck and panicked, flinging it away into the darkness and then hyperventilating for a while, imagining that it would come back and seek revenge. In this small way, it was also a horror movie experience.
Somehow, though, I can’t imagine Ai Weiwei flinging away the bug. I bet he’d film it undulating across his collarbone and incorporate that into some art piece about the tenacity of the little people against the weight of oppression. I mean here’s a guy who reacts to constant government surveillance by installing four 24/7 livestreaming webcams in his home. Like You wanna watch me? Okay. Watch the world watch me being watched by you. Bring it on. There is no try.
The Fake Case (2013) directed by Andreas Johnsen.