Soon after running into health and safety issues with his Sunflower Seeds exhibit at London’s Tate Modern, the artist faces a further setback: the demolition of his new studio in Shanghai, built at the invitation of the city’s mayor:
“It’s all very strange,” Ai told The Daily Telegraph. “This guy [the mayor] flew to Beijing twice to personally invite me to build the studio and have one or two artists based there so they could build up the new art district. Now they say they want to knock it down. The local officials say the word has come from above and they’re ‘sorry, but they can’t do anything about it – you have to destroy it’, and no further explanation.” An official notice said the demolition had been ordered for failing to apply in advance to the local district office for a “project planning licence” ….
Last year Ai underwent cranial surgery after being beaten by police in Sichuan province when he went to give evidence in support of another activist, Tan Zuoren, who was jailed for investigating the collapse of thousands of schools in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008 ….
… To mark the demolition of the studio, Ai has issued an open invitation, via Twitter, to a party this Sunday at which he will serve 10,000 river crabs, a local delicacy but also an extravagant jibe at local officialdom.
In Chinese the word for river crab, “hexie”, sounds very similar to that for “harmony”, the ideological buzzword of the current regime which is frequently used ironically by Chinese internet users – as in “my new art studio has just been ‘harmonised’.”
This reaction is typical of Ai’s stoicism in the face of adversity, which Evan Osnos described following the problems at the Tate Modern:
Ai Weiwei will no doubt embrace the problem, as he has previous unexpected problems: At the Documenta 12 festival in Kassel, Germany, in 2008, he installed a wooden outdoor sculpture, forty feet tall, made from bits of destroyed Chinese homes and temples. When a gust of wind crumbled it to the ground, festival organizers scrambled to re-install the piece, but Ai told them not to bother; he preferred to present it broken.