“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” Questions

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On Tuesday evening I was invited to watch the new film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry streaming in my living room. I invited a few friends over and hosted an intimate screening. The first two-thirds of the film consisted of documentation I had seen from various short films about Ai Weiwei (such as Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds and Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei?) but the last part included some clips I hadn’t seen. Regardless, the film was well put together and informative and paints a picture of Ai Weiwei. Though his art is clearly a main thread of the film, they put great emphasis on him as a dissident in China. After the screening director, Alison Klayman, hosted a breif qestion and answer session. I didn’t have time to squeeze a question in and would like to share some of my questions here. Full disclosure, many of my questions are based on a class a took last semester called Post Asia. If you’re interested in a more thorough review read this article on Art Journal. I definitely recommend seeing it in the theatre when it is released in July.

My questions:

Is Never Sorry showing in China? Does the Chinese public have access to and know about Ai Weiwei’s actions?

I am curious about language. So much of the film is in English and the majority of the tweets highlighted in the movie are in English. Despite that, many of Ai Weiwei’s works comment on Chinese culture and people.

Who is Ai Weiwei’s audience? Does the group he is representing have access to the sources (Twitter, Blogging, etc.) that he uses to promote his ideas?

Finally, I want to congratulate Alison Klayman. She chose to tackle incredibly volatile subject matter and she executed it beautifully. I greatly look forward to her next project.

3 thoughts on ““Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” Questions

  1. A few thoughts about your thoughts:

    1. I doubt China would let it show in China.

    2. I’m pretty sure she made the tweets English so we could read them. If you look at his feed it is almost all in Chinese: https://twitter.com/#!/aiww She talked a bit in the interview afterwards about how hard it was to film him tweeting, so my guess is everything in the movie was a recreation — they’re all filmed from the same angle of the same screen, for the most part.

    As to his audience, Julie and I talked about this a lot on our way home Tuesday. China has a population of what? 1.4 billion or so? I think it is unfair to expect a single artist to “properly represent China” to the west. If I had to guess, I would say he probably speaks more to the perils and frustrations of urban China than rural — even with his sunflower seeds in mind. To my mind — and I’m not saying you disagree, I’m just saying — he represents the plight of an individual fighting against the unquestionable behemoth of the Chinese state. And he does so both as an artist and a dissident.

    Anyway, I like the guy. He has his failings, of course, but part of his trick is that we are able to scrutinize his failings because he lives his life as transparently as possible. That is, perhaps, the whole point: by living a transparent life Weiwei contrasts himself against the opaqueness of Chinese government. We can see his failings and poke and prod at them, but we can hardly do so for the Party.

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  2. Zane, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! I need you to keep me on my critical thinking toes now that school is out!

    1. I’m sure you’re right but I wish you weren’t.

    2. Thank you for the info on the tweeting. As I think about it, if I remember correctly. I think in the Frontline video they show him Tweeting in Chinese. Still, did we see any in Chinese in Never Sorry?

    Absolutely one individual cannot represent an entire country–really and individual can only represent him or herself. To be more clear, my question is if he is playing to a Western audience. This is not a question as a statement but a genuine question and one I cannot answer because I am not Chinese. From my limited experience discussing Ai Weiwei with Chinese and expats who have lived in China, they are much more critical of Ai then people who are not from China.

    The bottom line is that he has educated many people on aspects of China that we may not have been as aware of. That alone is something.

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  3. There was at least one shot of him actually typing a tweet and it was being typed in Chinese. I think once it was posted we were shown a translated version.

    But I could be wrong, I wasn’t really watching with an eye towards that.

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