Ai Weiwei at the Venice Biennale

Journalist Jon Wiener writes on China Beat about the lack of any real official attention to imprisoned artist Ai Weiwei at the Venice Biennale, the summer’s largest global art event. The most obvious mention of Ai was an obscure sign along the canals reading “Bye Bye Ai Weiwei,” which some observers found offensive rather than supportive of Ai:

But the artist, Giuseppe Tampone , insisted that “Bye Bye” was not mistranslation, that he had been misunderstood. At the website, his explanation was presented in hard-to-understand English: “Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those that will not shout by any means ‘I don’t accept the bye bye.’”

The rest of his statement needs translation into comprehensible English: Stampione argued that “Hello Ai WeiWei” was “too easy,” because it seemed to offer hope, while hope in his view implied a passive stance. What was required, he argued, was “to realize the terrible situation in which Ai WeiWei is living today,” and then to take action to free him—political action, pressuring government leaders to take a stand and make demands of the Chinese authorities.

One more meaning he said he wanted to convey: “Bye Bye Ai Weiwei for all those who think that it could never happen to them.” Fair enough. Nevertheless, “Bye Bye Ai Weiwei” must be judged a failure.

[…] Perhaps the most striking thing about all this is the absence of any recognition of Ai Weiwei’s imprisonment on the part of the officials of the Biennale, especially curator Brice Curiger. Ai Weiwei was mentioned only once at an official event: at the first day opening of the preview, Paolo Baratta, president of the Biennale, told reporters, “We are great friends with the Chinese.” Then came a pause that implied “but,” followed by “I have written a letter to the ambassador of China in Italy saying how wonderful it would be if we could have happy news about Ai Weiwei.” And that was it for Ai WeiWei at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

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