Ai Weiwei’s studio party cancelled? Art Radar was there


AI WEIWEI POLITICAL ACTIVISM ARTIST STUDIO CHINA

So the media thought the Ai Weiwei party was cancelled … but it wasn’t. Only a handful of the press was there – Reuters, South China Morning Post, Le Monde and a few others. A few hundred people turned up to the artist’s studio, which served as a venue for music, food, overnight residence and political presentation.

Party attendees hold up posters in protest of Zuoxiao Zuzhou and Ai Weiwei. Image courtesy of Richard Warren..

Party attendees hold up protest posters of Zuoxiao Zuzhou and Ai Weiwei. Image courtesy of Richard Warren..

As controversial Beijing artist Ai Weiwei remained under house arrest in Beijing for planning a protest party, his “party of politics” went into full swing at his soon to be demolished $1.1m (£670,000) studio in the Jiading district of Shanghai. It was an ironic celebration of the decision made by authorities to tear the building down after they had persuaded him to build it. Ai publicly cancelled his party via Twitter and through the media on Saturday. He led the authorities to believe it wasn’t happening, only for it to go ahead on Sunday afternoon from 12pm.

People had travelled from far across China, staying and sleeping at his studio from Wednesday to secure a place at the long dining table, which crossed the central courtyard. The feast included dishes of stewed beef, pork and asparagus, fresh bread, white rice and the promised 10,000 local river crabs. Local chefs and kitchen-hands made and served the food from a small room at the front of the building, viewed through an open window which turned into a public viewing platform.

Musical interludes outside Ai Weiwei's studio as the food is being prepared. Image courtesy of Richard Warren.

Musical interludes outside of Ai Weiwei's studio as the food is being prepared. Image courtesy of Richard Warren.

River crabs ready to be served. Image courtesy of Rachel Marsden.

River crabs ready to be served. Image courtesy of Rachel Marsden.

Party goers chant whilst sharing river crab. Image courtesy of Rachel Marsden.

Party goers chant whilst sharing river crab. Image courtesy of Rachel Marsden.

The crabs, considered a local delicacy, were used at the party as a jibe at officialdom. In Chinese, the word for river crab, hexie, sounds very similar to that for “harmony”, the ideological buzzword of the current regime referencing the censorship of China. It is a word that is frequently used ironically by Chinese Internet users, and here is used in reference to the “harmonising” of Ai’s new studio. As the crabs were served, people started to chant repeatedly, “For a harmonised society eat river crabs…”, whilst smiling and laughing, considering it a personal yet political joke.

At one stage, a young teenage boy held up a handmade sign making his own personal protest, only to quickly be patted on the head by an elder and told to think clearly about his actions. Later on in the day, the commercial reality of the event set in as the organisers sold books and large photographic portrait posters by Ai. These posters were held up by individuals as another form of visual protest, explicitly referencing back to the propaganda posters used during the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1970s.

A young boy in personal protest at Ai Weiwei's studio party. Image courtesy of Rachel Marsden.

A young boy in personal protest at Ai Weiwei's studio party. Image courtesy of Rachel Marsden.

An attendee at Ai Weiwei's studio party tells the story of the meaning of river crab. Image courtesy of Rachel Marsden.

An attendee at Ai Weiwei's studio party tells the story of the meaning of river crab. Image courtesy of Rachel Marsden.

Only a handful of Westerners were present at the event where the atmosphere was jovial, although there was a serious undercurrent filled with the negative possibilities of what could occur that day, making you realise the local and global presence and power of not only Ai, but the authorities.

"A Party of Politics" - Ai Weiwei's protest party. Image courtesy of Rachel Marsden.

"A Party of Politics" - Ai Weiwei's protest party. Image courtesy of Rachel Marsden.

At the end of the event questions remained. Will river crab become a banned food in China? And would consuming this delicacy mean that you hold subversive intent against the authorities?

Ai Weiwei / River Crab Feast @ Shanghai Studio from An Xiao Mina (An Xiao) on Vimeo.

Ai Weiwei’s installation Sunflower Seeds, which was also restricted, this time due to public interaction being considered a health hazard, is currently on display at Tate Modern, London, until the 2 May, 2011.

Have you read this and want to find out more about Ai Weiwei? We have a number of books on this artist available for purchase online at the Art Radar Asia Store.

RM/KN/HH

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Comments

Ai Weiwei’s studio party cancelled? Art Radar was there — 5 Comments

  1. Thank you. We are about to post an article on this demolition and its good to have every perspective represented.

  2. Please read Caijin’s 11/17 story on the studio demolition titled “艾未未工作室被拆记-《财经网》” for what really happened:

    - Ai was approached not by shanghai City, but Jiadin District official Sun Jiwei about the studio in Malu. It’s built on village collective land.

    - Neither the District nor township official arranged for building permit. When Shanghai National Land Management Bureau discovered the illegal building, Ai was notified of the lack of permit in July 2010 under Article 34 Section 1 of Land Mangement law. Construction continued on local official’s assurance it would be resolved.

    (Here’s the relevant section: “”个人进行建设,需要使用土地的,必须依法申请使用国有土地…乡(镇)村公共设施和公益事业建设经依法批准使用农民集体所有的土地的除外”.)

    - When permit could not be obtained, efforts were made to save the building under public project exemtion in aforementioned section. Jiadin District offered 50% more compensation in exchange to have building donated to the village collective, but Ai refused.

  3. Pingback: China – “The Party of Politics” « Rachel Marsden's Words

  4. Pingback: Ai Weiwei’s House Arrest and Studio Party « 茶有の者 – A Man with Tea

  5. Pingback: No Party for Ai Weiwei | Private Galleries Tour

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