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Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei — Freedom of Expression under Surveillance

Ai Weiwei

What means of expression are still available as an artist, as a human being, if your freedom of movement is severely curtailed, you are watched all the time and you run the risk of once more being detained? For Ai Weiwei the answer lay in the use of photography and video to record his life, and in the optimal deployment of the Internet and social media. By striving for the greatest possible transparency he is consciously undermining the surveillance carried out by the authorities.


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Preface Freedom of Expression under Surveillance


The Fight Will Never End




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Daily Police Surveillance Bugs Disturbing the Peace

186 Beijing, 2003 196 Chang’an Boulevard 206 Beijing: The Second Ring 216 Beijing: The Third Ring

by Marcel Feil

Interview with Ai Weiwei



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Instagram Weiweicam




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Mermaid Exchange Wang Family Ancestral Hall Marble S.A.C.R.E.D. Panda to Panda

We have always regarded it as extremely important to keep full control over the content of Foam Magazine. Complete editorial freedom and command of every aspect are essential in making the magazine what we intend it to be: independent, unconventional, surprising and relevant. So it’s understandable that we have never worked with a guest editor before. But there are people in the cultural world Foam Magazine is more than willing to collaborate with and to give all the space they deserve. People who create groundbreaking work and practice their profession in truly original ways, people with a vision that is of significance not just for the art world but for society as a whole, people who have the courage to raise their voices even when it’s risky to do so, people with a voice that simply has to be heard. People like the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. It is with immense pride, therefore, that we present this unique issue of Foam Magazine with Ai Weiwei as guest editor. As well as the most important contemporary Chinese artist, designer and curator, Ai Weiwei is a leading social and cultural commentator, a champion of human rights and democracy, and a tireless, outspoken critic of the political system in China. Ai Weiwei has paid a high price. He underwent emergency brain surgery in 2009 after a beating from the police in Chengdu. He was later placed under house arrest. Many accusations followed and in 2010 his studio in Shanghai was destroyed. In 2011 Ai Weiwei was arrested without any official charges being brought and was held for eighty-one days at an unknown location. On his release his passport was seized and he was unable to leave China. He and his studio were watched continually by secret agents and cameras, while his telephone and computers were tapped or monitored. Since 2011 Ai Weiwei has been under constant surveillance by the Chinese authorities.

as a human being, if your freedom of movement is severely curtailed, you are watched all the time and you run the risk of once more being detained? For Ai Weiwei the answer lay in the use of photography and video to record his life, and in the optimal deployment of the Internet and social media. Instagram and Twitter became the means by which Ai Weiwei shared virtually every aspect of his life with a steadily growing multitude of followers all over the world. He became more famous than ever. By striving for the greatest possible transparency he consciously undermined the surveillance carried out by the authorities. In this latest issue of Foam Magazine he reports on how it was done. While the magazine was in production, Ai Weiwei had his passport returned to him and was given the opportunity to travel abroad. In a sense this issue of Foam Magazine documents a crucial and highly eventful period in the life of one of the most important artists of our age. We are grateful to Ai Weiwei for the trust he has placed in us. We would also like to thank Feng Boyi, as well as everyone in the studios in Beijing and in Berlin who have worked to make this special issue possible. Marloes Krijnen Editor-in-Chief

Ai Weiwei


No wonder, then, that the theme chosen for this special issue is ‘Freedom of Expression under Surveillance’. What means of expression are still available to you as an artist,



Ai Weiwei


By Marcel Feil

Ai Weiwei

It’s mid-April and already oppressively warm in Beijing, heralding a hot summer in China’s hectic capital. The walled compound in which Ai Weiwei’s studio is located is in Caochangdi, in the northwest of the city. Behind the tall blue gate lies a peaceful oasis. Ai Weiwei himself radiates peace, although his often extensive projects occupy much of his time. Before the conversation begins he casually photographs his guests with his smart phone, an act that appears routine. The decision to function as guest editor for the winter issue of Foam Magazine is quickly made, as is the choice of subject to which the issue will be devoted: Freedom of Expression Under Surveillance. Soon others require his attention again. American digital security specialist Jacob Appelbaum and documentary maker Laura Poitras are here for the project Panda to Panda, and filming needs to resume. Throughout our brief conversation, Ai Weiwei’s smart phone stands upright on the table, its tiny lens pointing at me. Whether it’s actually filming never becomes clear. 5

That filming is going on in and around Ai Weiwei’s compound is anything but a secret, however. Surrounded by at least fifteen surveillance cameras, put there by the Chinese authorities, his studio is probably one of the best monitored places in Beijing. His phones are tapped too, and his computers screened. Only very recently, in early October this year, was the discovery made that listening devices had been placed inside the electrical sockets on the wall of his studio, right next to the spot where he works. The suspicion is that the bugs were put there four years earlier, after the studio was raided by the Chinese police, who quickly placed a cordon around the compound, searched the building meticulously, and took away laptops and the hard drive of the main computer.

Ai Weiwei

That raid came immediately after the moment on 3 April 2011 when Ai was arrested at the Beijing International Airport, where he was about to depart for Taipei. He was taken to an unknown location and, without any formal charges being laid, held for eighty-one days. After he was released it became known that his detention was characterized above all by psychological terror. He was locked in a small room where he was constantly interrogated and where the light burned day and night. He was continually watched by two policemen who were physically with him in the room. Every move and every act, from sleeping and washing to using the toilet, was painstakingly observed by the policemen – extremely humiliating and the ultimate form of surveillance. The exact reasons for Ai’s detention will always remain obscure. One possible factor is that in the run-up to the transfer of power in 2012, hardliners within the Communist Party came very obviously to the fore. More and more often, and indeed brazenly, activists and lawyers were threatened or put behind bars. What is certain is that after the Olympic


Games in 2008 the Chinese security apparatus rapidly expanded. The budget for national security was fifty percent higher in 2011 than in 2008. This was precisely the period in which Ai’s political activism became an increasingly important and explicit aspect of his artistic work. He regarded the need to become active in this sense as an inseparable element of his responsibility as an artist. ‘I do not believe in so-called intellectuals,’ he wrote in 2009. ‘I disdain the fact that they only think rather than turning their thoughts into action.’ It was after the province of Sichuan was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2008 that Ai Weiwei’s longstanding criticism of the authorities and the political system became more intense and direct in tone. Ai led a team that investigated the situation in the disaster area. In response to the lack of transparency on the part of the authorities with regard to releasing the names of schoolchildren killed in the catastrophe, Ai Weiwei recruited volunteers online who started a ‘Citizens’ Investigation’, intending to garner as many names and as much information as possible about the children who died. On 20 March 2009 he posted a blog entitled ‘Citizens’ Investigation’ in which he wrote ‘To remember the departed, to show concern for life, to take responsibility, and for the potential happiness of the survivors, we are initiating a “Citizens’ Investigation”. We will seek out the names of each departed child, and we will remember them.’ On 28 May 2009, Chinese authorities shut down his blog. In 2009, Ai Weiwei suffered headaches after being beaten by a local policeman in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. He had gone to Chengdu to testify in the case against Tan Zuoren, a fellow activist who investigated the poor ‘tofu-dreg’ construction

Although Ai Weiwei has for years been a critic of the Chinese authorities and a champion of human rights, it was thought for a long time that he would be left undisturbed. Unlike many other Chinese activists, whose names were unknown to the general public of a heavily censored country, Ai Weiwei was famous. The son of Ai Qing, one of China’s most famous revolutionary poets, he might be regarded as a descendant of the aristocracy of the Communist Party. Ai Qing stood next to Chairman Mao on the podium on Tiananmen Square when the Chinese People’s Republic was declared in 1949. Perhaps partly because of his strong beliefs he fell into disfavour in 1958 and was exiled to the Gobi Desert in the far west of the province of Xinjiang. In the insanity of the Cultural Revolution, Ai Qing was assigned to clean public toilets while his son had to work in the fields. Only after Mao’s death in 1976 was Ai Qing rehabilitated and his family allowed to return to Beijing – Weiwei as an angry teenager. By April 2011 neither his fame nor his origins any longer protected him. Ai Weiwei was the biggest scalp in the authorities’ belt and their actions were an unambiguous signal that everyone must know their place. After his release his passport was confiscated and he was forced to stay in China, where the authorities closely watched his every step. Wherever he went, cars always followed him. In every restaurant he visited, solitary men sat for hours over a cup of tea, continually using their phones and avoiding all eye

contact. In front of his house men stood doing nothing, or hung around next to cars. Then there were those cameras that just happened to be mounted in his street – a great many cameras. In April 2012, exactly a year after his arrest, Ai Weiwei set up four webcams at his studio: out in the compound, above his work table, next to his computer and over his bed. The images from the webcams could be watched live by anyone who chose to look, twenty-four hours a day, on the website weiweicam. com. The project was an experiment in transparency, and because Ai took control of his own constant surveillance it was also a form of artistic performance. The authorities were not pleased and demanded an immediate end to Ai Weiwei has spoken of his attempt to make clear to the authorities how reasonable his project was: ‘I explained to them: you have fifteen cameras on me, and the camera I set up in my bedroom is exactly the same camera that I had above my head during my 81 days in detention. So I am doing you a favour to (let you) really know what I am doing and have a close watch.’ The authorities, not susceptible to reason, remained implacable. After forty-six hours was shut down. In the time that it was sending out live pictures the site was seen by 5.2 million people, all across the world. The use of the Internet as a cross-border platform for a display of the greatest possible transparency, for the distribution and sharing of information and for the building of a global community of followers was a success. Back in 2005 Ai Weiwei began blogging on Sina Weibo, the largest Internet blogging platform in China. His first blog was posted on 19 November that year. For four years ‘he turned out a steady stream of scathing social commentary, criticism of government policy, thoughts on art and architecture,


Ai Weiwei

of the collapsed school buildings and the corruption of the authorities. In September 2009 a doctor in Munich diagnosed internal bleeding inside Ai Weiwei’s head and the decision was made to perform emergency surgery. A direct relationship was suspected between the beating in Chengdu and the cerebral haemorrhage.

and autobiographical writings.’ In 2009 Sina stopped the blog. There was never an official reason for the blog’s closure. From that moment on, Ai made use of Twitter and claimed he spent most of his time at the computer. Although he stopped using Twitter in 2013, the account remains active, mainly in the form of retweets and Instagram posts.

to involve a considerable risk for the authorities, especially in view of the worldwide commotion his treatment aroused in 2011. A pragmatic approach seems more likely, and recent events seem to point in that direction: in July this year, Ai Weiwei had his passport returned to him and regained his right to travel freely.

The almost endless stream of images he posts on Instagram makes it possible to follow Ai Weiwei from day to day. Anything can be the subject of a post: the people he meets, the food he eats, his cats in the studio, Skype sessions with his young son, a new project, or yet another member of the secret services caught nervously ducking away into his phone. Ai Weiwei uses the strategy of ultimate self-surveillance and complete transparency made possible by modern technology and the Internet. ‘If nothing is hidden, then there’s nothing to spy on.’ He focuses with apparent sardonic pleasure on the surveillance methods of the state: the surveillant is captured and mercilessly unmasked before the eyes of the entire world. The watcher is watched. A risky but effective strategy, since as Ai says, ‘The Internet is uncontrollable. And if the Internet is uncontrollable, freedom will win. It’s as simple as that.’

With major exhibitions outside China, including one at the Royal Academy in London, and a new position as a visiting professor at the Universität der Künste Berlin, a new phase has dawned in the personal and artistic life of Ai Weiwei, a phase in which freedom of expression, even without surveillance, remains as important as it ever has been.

Ai Weiwei

But this use of the Internet comes at a price: the surrender of his privacy and the knowledge that everything he does must be shared with the world. Ultimately it’s a price that he pays, as an individual, for the rights and freedoms of many others in China, and therefore, in his view, one he has no choice but to pay. Forced to act from within China, Ai Weiwei has gained more followers and more fame over recent years than ever before, especially outside China. Not only does this mean he has a worldwide audience and the opportunity to share his vision and beliefs widely, and in the process to undermine an authoritarian system, it also provides him with a considerable degree of protection. Because although there’s always a chance that Ai will be imprisoned again or silenced, that would appear


right page: Ai Weiwei as seen on a surveillance monitor at his exhibition at Galleria Continua and Tang Contemporary Art in Beijing, 2015. next spread: Ai Weiwei, Brain Inflation, 2009, MRI image showing Ai Weiwei’s cerebral hemorrhage as a result of police brutality in Chengdu, China, August 12, 2009



Humanity has evolved through very different stages. And in the past hundred years this has accelerated. We never had skyscrapers before, and you couldn’t imagine so many people would live in the same building of more than a hundred levels. But they do, they don’t know each other and they don’t care. That doesn’t cause any problems. We don’t understand who we are unless we are able to adapt to the new conditions that define our time. And the human condition is created by humans only – by their desire, their need for comfort. That is not forced upon them. If there is a danger it is created by human monsters and we, as humans, won’t accept it.

Ai Weiwei

On Instagram you posted a lot of images of representatives of the authorities who were ordered to constantly watch you. This is really old thinking. It’s like playing a game of poker. They think that when they secretly pick a card, you don’t know what they have seen, so they have an advantage over you. But that is not morally right. You can only play a game if all players have the


same understanding of its rules. You cannot change the rules during the game or cheat. But any authority wants to take advantage of their position because they are lazy, and want to take shortcuts. So outside my house are some 15 to 20 cameras, the police do surveillance all the time and quite recently listening devices were found in three of my rooms, right next to my working table. All my conversations are recorded by them – conversations with journalists, human right activists, freedom fighters, lawyers, family members, whoever. And this is no surprise, you know, because China is a state in which a profound ethical, moral or philosophical discussion is not possible. So anything can happen. But eventually it’s only an advantage within the game played by themselves. My tactics are openness and transparency. I told them: “I don’t have any secrets, you have a secret. Let me put a device on every corner of my room. I will expose my life to the whole world. And if you like to see it, you can.” That’s what I did with Weiweicam. And when millions of people visited the site to look at what I was doing there, the authorities

“Power only exists when you are vulnerable”

Ai Weiwei



got scared. They called me and said “Weiwei, can you just shut down the device?” I asked whether this was part of a negotiation or an order by the state. It was an order by the state, so I had to shut it down. So they are most vulnerable when their legitimacy is challenged. Complete transparency meant that you had to give up your privacy. It’s quite shocking. People grab these images when I was picking my nose, when I was half nude or when I was asleep. They saw everything. It’s very difficult. But sometimes you forget there’s a camera. A challenge is the question of whether we do need privacy. A society only needs privacy for individuals to protect larger values. We don’t have privacy for birds or for wild animals, we only need it because we are human. We use it to protect values that are important for the larger society, for the collective. I grew up in a communist society and privacy was non-existent: nothing could be called private. In a communist society the individual belongs to the state, simply as part of a labour supply for the larger common good. So in that sense, anything private is a sin. And it is true there is no need to hide anything as an individual if the larger good, the collective, has also nothing to hide. Then the players are evenly matched. But that will never be the case. So in that case the state has no right to know your private life even if you have nothing to hide as an individual.

Ai Weiwei

This so-called transparency caused by the Internet also has a huge downside to it; it has become quite easy for the state or for large commercial companies to monitor our behaviour and to learn about many of our personal preferences. That’s true. Anybody who has power knows how to use it and how to make you more vulnerable. Power only exists when you are vulnerable. So this fight will never end. But a fight is a sign of life. It is not that you want to fight, or have chosen to, but it’s part of life. When the fight disappears, life disappears. You should not have too many illusions about it. And with this, I don’t only mean my own life, but also another person’s life, my neighbour’s life or the young children’s lives. As long as human beings cannot achieve peace in this world the fight will never end.



2 Yiwu River Dam, 2002, Jinhua, Zhejiang

5 Ai Weiwei, Straight (detail), 2008–2012, Steel rebar

3 National Stadium No. 4 15.09.2006

6 Ai Weiwei, Straight (detail), 2008–2012, Steel rebar, Exhibition view at the Royal Academy of Art, London, 2015

4 Ai Weiwei, Study of Perspective – Tiananmen, 1998

7 Ai Weiwei, Tax Documents, 2015

Ai Weiwei

1 Ai Weiwei, December 2010. Photograph courtesy of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry / Photo by Ted Alcorn.


Freedom of speech implies the world isn’t defined. It is meaningful when people are allowed to see the world their way. (8:16 p.m. December 22, 2011)




Since 2011

Ai Weiwei began using Instagram in 2011. Previously, Ai engaged with the online world through his blog, which began in 2005 and was subsequently shut down by the Chinese authorities in 2009. Soon after the shuttering of his blog, Ai discovered Twitter, where he could freely post without the spectre of online censorship. On Instagram, Ai found a platform in which he could share with the world a steady stream of visual information, posting pictures of everyday life in Beijing, family, friends, selfies, and works in progress. A prolific Instagrammer, Ai also posted images of those he shared his time with, including celebrities, artists, politicians, activists, journalists, and students.

Ai Weiwei






Railway and Highway Occupancy Fee As a result of Beijing’s migrant labor and university student populations’ observing the timeless tradition of returning home for the Spring Festival holidays, railways and highways are severely overburdened, and tickets “In order to protect air quality and are difficult to obtain. A proposed build a livable city,” Beijing will levy “Railway and Highway Occupancy an emissions fee on motor vehicles Fee” should be collected from travelers in yet another creative taxing policy to alleviate pressures on these transwith socialist characteristics. With 3.5 portation industries. million automobiles on the road, and at 300 RMB per car, this will total 1.3 Party Representatives’ Congress billion RMB per year. This is the first and Two Conferences Fee attempt in the Year of the Ox at The annual “Two Meetings” and stimulating domestic demand. the various intermittent congresses held by Party Representatives subject As an urban resident, I am worried the normal lives of Beijing citizens for the government, and I’d like to to regular disturbances and excestake action for her. I propose that the sive security management, and have following industries and professions an extremely negative impact on the deliberate the feasibility of the follo- city’s traffic, appearance, and cultural wing fees to be collected in regard to affairs, ultimately resulting in an Beijing’s most critical issues. inhospitable city.

Ai Weiwei

BULLSHIT TAX Posted on February 1, 2009

Congested Traffic Fee Owing to Beijing’s unique political environment and metropolitan status, nonnative populations are posing increasingly serious pressures on Beijing’s traffic. In order to maintain the capital’s psychological prospects and tidy appearance, a suggested “Congested Traffic Fee” should be collected from all Beijing nonnatives.


Fees to be levied from representatives during the Two Meetings are proposed in order to help improve partystate relations. Eight Honors and Eight Disgraces Fee In light of the rising overall costs of state propagandizing, the costs of upgrading and optimization strategies

Entering the Capital to Present Gifts Fee As a result of local governments’ holiday custom of catering to central government officials and various Beijing institutions by hosting feasts Observing Flag Raising in and presenting gifts, shopping centers Tiananmen Square Fee in the capital have been inundated Large numbers of out-of-town floawith inordinate amounts of expensive ting populations gather in Tiananmen luxury merchandise. Despite repeated Square to watch the flag-raising bans, this corruption cannot be stopceremony. Their numbers exceed the ped. Furthermore, the private cars of proscribed amount for unlawful gaprovincial government leaders worsen therings, and these ceremonies could the city’s already distressed traffic potentially evolve into a mob scene of conditions. A fee should be collected antiscientific cults. A fee for entrance from the automobiles of provincial onto Tiananmen Square is proposed. government officials entering the capital during the holiday seasons to Petitioning Complaints Fee present tribute gifts. Owing to long-standing inaction and misconduct on the part of local Abalone and Bird’s Nest Fee governments, great numbers of Although both abalone and bird’s citizens have arrived in the capital nests should already be prohibited to petition complaints. These petiitems, after a thorough deliberation tioners have fierce tendencies and are on cruel national conditions and difficult to control; they roam about the urgent need to stimulate domesin the capital, sleep on the streets, tic demand, a high tax on the sale and occupy psychiatric hospital beds. of such products to individuals is They negatively affect the intellectual proposed; furthermore, a list of the and civilized atmosphere of Beijing, consumers’ names should be disclosed as well as the international image to the public. of the Chinese nation, and it is thus recommended that provincial and Polluted Sauna Water Fee local governments be charged a Saunas, an imported trend, pose “Petitioning Complaints Fee” based self-evident potential sanitation on a head count of their petitioners problems. In order to maintain the in Beijing. healthy development of the city’s


Ai Weiwei

for various propagation campaigns, and in light of the increasing importance and obligatory nature of propaganda, an “Eight Honors and Eight Disgraces Fee” is proposed.

economy, it is recommended that a high tax be collected on the disposal of contaminated sauna water. Taking into account that certain businessmen may potentially repackage the polluted water as drinking water, or sell it back to the city as sanitized water, it is proposed that this fee is to be calculated from the difference in the amount of water pumped into a sauna that has not yet drained off.

Ai Weiwei

First-Time Fee Considering the facts that mobs protect illicit sexual establishments and that the deflowering of young women has become a scarce commodity on the illegal sex market, the demand for virgins has caused serious mental imbalances in virgins in our society, and a gnawing schizophrenia in many men who will suffer a lifetime without experiencing a “first time.” A high fee is proposed, to be collected on the purchase of the “first-time” experience of unmarried women, which will be used for the retirement pensions of women and for research on mental illness in men. Pornography Elimination Fee Because the rate of spiritual cultivation of our city’s citizens develops so much slower than the rate of overall economic development, the government’s annual campaign to “eliminate pornography and illegal publications”


must be expanded. Effective methods should be employed to survey the ages of incarcerated prisoners serving sentences for sex-related crimes, and a fee collected from the population of nonimprisoned urban males of a similar age. These funds can be used as retirement pension or medical insurance for people who demonstrate good behavior and pass the at-risk age bracket without committing related criminal offenses. It is suggested that these fees not be employed by the government to invest in the stock market. Chanting Fee This tax is directed primarily at spiritual pilgrims, people who burn incense, and those offering prayers. This fee is levied for occupying intangible space. Amenorrhea Fee Menstrual irregularities are a primary cause of anxiety disorders in post-married life. This fee should be collected before the arrival of middle or old age in women, and should be used for researching the mental health disorders of the middle-aged and elderly. Menopause Fee The reason for this tax is similar to the aforementioned “Amenorrhea Fee,” and requires further counsel

Silencing Newspapers and Periodicals Fee The news media is similar, although not equivalent to, the pornographic industry, and since reasons for silencing journalists fall outside the scope of the market economy, it is recommended that consideration be given to each unique case and relevant domestic conditions, so that fees will be carefully selected for the appropriate reasons. Due to time restraints, the sequential prioritization of these fees can be determined at a later time and at our discretion. I’ve brought up only a few ideas, but omitted so many others. Hopefully my crude attempts can attract some valuable discussion. The following fees should be considered of equal importance to those mentioned above: parking your body in a public square fee, Olympic public order fee, big footprint and lip-synching fee, migrant workers occupying public space fee, nannies doing the wash fee, security guards hassling citizens fee, crying infants fee, unable to read red poster due

to colorblindness fee, Tibetan traitors stationed in Beijing fee, contaminated fruits and vegetable fee, students traversing the road fee, elderly dementia fee, undiagnosable mental illness fee, post-harmonious discord fee. There should also be taxes and fees for not driving, for cadavers unable to discharge waste, for leaving one’s house too infrequently, tangling kite strings, polluting with lighters, cellular phone radiation, smoking fake brand-name tobacco, sobriety after drinking fake alcohol, clogging drainage pipes with vomit, and on the reasonable and unreasonable collection of various fees. It appears that the fees the government could and should be collecting are infinite. This final suggestion is also the most effective: return to the singular fee system from before reform and opening, the “dictatorship of the proletariat” fee. At least you could refrain from collecting a bullshit tax, just this once.

Ai Weiwei

from a wide range of scholars and experts, or should be collected concurrently with the proposed fee above.




Beijing, 2003, is a video work about the city the artist lives in and its people. Starting under the Dabeiyao highway interchange, the vehicle from which the video was shot travelled every road within the Fourth Ring Road of Beijing, one by one. Approximately 2,400 kilometers and 150 hours of footage later, it ended where it began under the Dabeiyao highway interchange. Through the windshield, the camera objectively recorded all the visual information that appeared before the vehicle – investigating the spatial state of the city’s streets, the endlessly changing times, scenery, movements, behaviours, and other concepts – thoroughly, meticulously, and calmly recording the mega city of Beijing through a single lens. The sum of the entire process became the meaning of the work.

Ai Weiwei

Beijing, 2003

















Mermaid Exchange 2010

In March 2010, the Little Mermaid statue, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, was removed from its original location in Copenhagen’s Lagelinie Promenade and shipped to Shanghai for the 2010 World Expo, where it was installed in the Danish Pavilion. In place of the statue, Ai Weiwei exhibited a temporary video installation, entitled Mermaid Exchange. There, he placed an LED screen, which provided a twenty-four hour feed of the relocated statue in Shanghai, transmitted from a conspicuously placed surveillance camera mounted within the pavilion’s atrium.

page 234: Danish Pavilion, Shanghai, 2010 page 236+237: Ai Weiwei, Mermaid Exchange (surveillance stills), 2010, video installation, Danish Pavilion, Shanghai

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page 238: Danish Pavilion, Shanghai, 2010 page 239: Ai Weiwei, Mermaid Exchange, 2010, video installation, Langelinie, Copenhagen, Denmark


One of the reasons religions are widely accepted is spiritual laziness and its resulting fear. (6:10 a.m. December 24, 2010)

S.A.C.R.E.D. 2011–2013

In 2011, Chinese authorities imprisoned Ai Weiwei for 81 days in a secret location without filing any official charges against him. During this period of imprisonment, Ai was constantly interrogated and put under twenty-four hour surveillance, accompanied by two guards who never left his side even when he used the toilet or went to sleep. In S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013), Ai recreated his detention in a six-part work, made from fibreglass and encased in iron. Each of the letters in S.A.C.R.E.D. stands for a different episode of his experience: Supper, Accusers, Cleansing, Ritual, Entropy, and Doubt.

page 262: Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D. Ritual (detail), 2011-2013 page 264: Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D. Supper (detail), 2011-2013 page 265: Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D. Maquettes, 2011-2013, fibreglass page 266: Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D. Doubt (detail), 2011-2013 page 267: Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D. Maquettes, 2011-2013, fibreglass

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page 268: Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D. Entropy (detail), 2011-2013 page 269: Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D. Maquettes, 2011-2013, fibreglass


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PREVIEW Foam Magazine #43, Freedom of Expression under Surveillance  

Foam Magazine is launching a brand new issue, which was made in close collaboration with world-renowned Chinese contemporary artist and acti...