David Sheff speaks with Ai Weiwei in a wide-ranging interview for Playboy Magazine, in which the dissident artist discusses imprisonment, free speech and the internet, as well as his time spent in the United States:
PLAYBOY:As China has opened to the West, what’s the impact of a nondemocratic system in which the Communist Party selects its leaders from within?
AI: The way to survive in this party is to hide yourself or to become a person who obeys orders from above. These are not people with new ideas who are bold. One generation chooses the next, and one is worse than the former. It’s like inbreeding. After so many generations, it becomes weaker and weaker. You can see in the first generation— Chairman Mao’s generation, Castro’s generation—the first revolutionaries are strong characters, maybe crazy but a bit romantic. Idealistic. Now you see nothing. They cannot even remember what
64 their ancestors said.
PLAYBOY:Along with your Twitter messages, is your art largely a result of frustration with the current political system?
AI: I’m a person who likes to make an argument rather than just give emotion or expression a form and shape in art. I became an artist only because I was oppressed by society. I was born into a very political society. When I was a child, my father told me, as a joke, “You can be a politician.” I was 10 years old. I didn’t understand it, because I already knew that politicians were the enemy, the ones who crushed him. I didn’t understand what he was talking about. But now I understand. I can be political. I can say something even though we grew up without true education, memorizing Chairman Mao’s slogans. I memorized hundreds of them. I can still sing his songs, recite his poetry. Every morning at school we stood in front of his image, memorizing one of his sentences telling what we should do today to make ourselves a better person.
Ai also discusses his venture into the medium of rock and roll, calling heavy metal music “poetry within a storm.” This morning, he posted a new heavy metal music video to his website in which he recreates scenes of his 2011 detention:
Ai told The New York Times that he made the video and related music album because he “wanted to do something impossible:”
“It’s about the whole condition,” he said in an interview at his studio last week after showing final cuts of the video to a reporter and a photographer. “It’s not really about me. I think it’s about how the power of the state tries to manage and maintain this kind of control.”
Mr. Ai wrote the lyrics in one morning. He asked a friend, the rocker and contemporary artist Zuoxiao Zuzhou, to handle the music. Six songs are expected to be released together in an album called “The Divine Comedy” on June 22, the second anniversary of Mr. Ai’s exit from detention. The video was shot by the cinematographer Christopher Doyle, an Australian resident of Hong Kong who is best known for his work with Wong Kar-wai, a director of highly stylized films, and Zhang Yimou, who has in recent years been a favorite of the Communist Party.
Near his studio Mr. Ai has created a full-scale model of the austere room in which he was kept for much of his time in detention. He said the actual prison was in western Beijing and was used to house prominent detainees.