Ai Weiwei zählt zu den berühmtesten Künstlern der Gegenwart. Spätestens seit seiner Verhaftung vor über einem Jahr erreichte Ai Weiwei international an Berühmtheit. Am 22. Juni soll sein einjähriger Hausarrest enden. Dieses Ereignis fällt zusammen mit dem Filmstart der Dokumentation “AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY”. Die Regisseurin Alison Klayman begleitete den Künstler über drei Jahre lang und zeigt Ai Weiwei von einer oft sehr privaten Seite. Wir trafen die Amerikanerin in Berlin zu einem Interview.
In your movie, you are showing Ai Weiwei as the versatile artist that he is, with all his facets, as an architect, as a visual artist and especially as a fighter for freedom of expression. What have you been thinking about his works – from the beginning of the idea to the realization? I am referring for example to the magnificent project „Sunflower Seeds” at the Tate Modern Gallery in London 2010.
Klayman: I was really impressed with it. When he knew that he wanted to do the Turbine Hall (an exhibition hall in the Tate Modern) he didn’t immediately know what he wanted to do there. A lot of his works deal with different materials – traditionally from China. He went down to Jingdezhen, the porcelain town in China, where he was looking for an idea for the Turbine Hall. After a while he was thinking about a bamboo work. We went to New York and we saw the bamboo construction “Big Bambú” by the twin artists Doug and Mike Starn on the roof top of the Met.
When Ai WeiWei saw this, he was thinking – somebody is already doing something with bamboo right now. So he went into his studio, where he has a big pile of sunflower seeds, and suddenly the idea was born. Every other artist is trying to do go big in the Turbine Hall. He was doing a very small and sensitive work there. It was very quiet. It is one of my favourite works of Ai Weiwei. I think it is really hard to read one particular meaning in it and I think that it is very exemplary for what he does. And it is related to China, too.
In his works, everything is always about scale. How to bring a thousand and one people to Germany, a thousand and one chairs, he took ten thousand photographs when he lived in New York. That was also the idea behind the Sunflower Seeds. But they are all individual, they are all individually handmade. It is also about being real or fake. You would not necessarily know that they are fake. And I have seen people watching the movie who don’t know about this work and they didn’t know if it’s fake until they saw the people who painted the seeds. And I think it is one of his works that you could make a whole about.
For me, while watching the movie, it was interesting to recognize the logical connection – without being flat. I liked it a lot, that, despite the disclosure of the person Ai WeiWei, it wasn’t just another biography. But the movie is rather looking at the future and I, personally, find it very motivating but also quite dramatic. “Never Sorry” is showing Ai WeiWei as an artist, but also takes an uncensored look at contemporary china. Were there any moments of fear while shooting, or moments, when you thought you would not be able to finish the movie?
Klayman: The times we filmed in Chengdu were the most intense moments of shooting for me. But I wouldn’t say that my fear was my own. Something happened to me as much as it happened to Ai Weiwei and the other chinese citizens that we were travelling with. Because each time we were travelling, it wasn’t just him and me. There were big groups of supporters or volunteers or other chinese filmmakers who were there to document. And I feel that the other ones were taking the real risk. So, those times were tense and I was definitely concerned about them and then concerned about keeping my footage. But I really didn’t experience any other kinds of pressure while I was making this film. And I think that partly was because Ai Weiwei was not a sensitive political figure as other chinese artists. If I was trying to make a film about them over the last three years, it would be a different story. But you have to acknowledge to some degree where China is today – that I was able to shoot at all. Everything was kind of open and in a way there is a sort of protection about being open like that.
You visited the artist directly after his 81 days in prison – among other things, to show him the movie. Was the arrest the reason for the completion of the movie or did you have a timeline from the beginning?
Klayman: I was already ending the postproduction by editing the film when he was detained. I didn’t know when it was going to end while shooting, but I knew when the time was right. It wasn’t because the story was over, or because Ai Weiwei was imprisoned. It was around the middle of 2010 that I started to recognize how much has happened to him the last years. You could make a movie about every single work of art by him, you could make a movie about every decade of his life. In 2010 I finally started to feel like I have a movie. So I went to London and after that I went back to New York, to work with an editor. Within a few weeks I was already going back to China, because they announced that they demolished Ai Weiwei’s Shanghai Studio.
And I felt that this is such a big story and I really wanted to have this in the movie. When April 3rd (the date of Weiwei’s imprisonment) happened, we thought that it made sense that the detention had to be part of the film. It was really hard to work at that time emotionally, and also because we didn’t know how to end it. We really didn’t know what was going to happen. So it was kind of a special thing in the end – because he was released. It’s funny in a way, because I thought the movie was a kind of an arbitrary look on a few years of his life when I happened to know him. And now I think, looking at it, it is really undeniable that these were some really important years. And the fact, that the movie is punctuated by his release, is really showing that it covered a destined period in his life. Never Sorry covers an important chapter until its completion.
You speak mandarin and lived in china for a few years. From that point of view, you had the best conditions for starting the project. But how was the idea born to make a movie about Ai Weiwei? Was it difficult to make contact with the artist and to convince him from your idea?
Klayman: In 2008, I was already living in China for two years, my roommate was curating an exhibition of Weiwei’s photographs in New York. So the first time I heard of Ai Weiwei was because my roommate has this photos at home and she would show them to me and she told me about him. He seemed like a really interesting person. She told me he had this blog and was saying all these things and was also just putting up photos of his cats – he just seemed to be a very interesting guy. And in December 2008 I joined her at the end of the curating process to make a video for her gallery.
Yes, the way we started at the beginning, was already that I was filming him. Over those few weeks we got along really well. I was definitely curious about him. I wanted to know more. I was working as a reporter at that time. He also liked the video that I did for the gallery. I think the progress was very naturally, I don’t think you could have planned it. And you are right, the fact that I lived there and spoke Mandarin also really helped. And then eventually in 2010 I felt like so much happened and it was such a good story that I stopped reporting and really focused on the movie.
What is Ai Weiwei doing now? How do you estimate his situation at the moment? In the movie he is looking quite intimitated – understandably.
Klayman: I think he is still processing the possibilities that are available for him in the future. But I also think he is hoping to reach June 22nd and have the police keep their word and have his situation change in some way. I think if he is continually under threat, if he is continually unable to make works and travel freely to show them, if the possibility of his family being under threat remains, he would have to respond to that. But right now we are still within this one year where there is supposed to be an end date to it. And I think he is trying to get to that point. He has to ask admission every day to leave the house. He can’t leave Beijing but he doesn’t have to stay in his house. But on the other hand he has broken some of the conditions he has – he is back on Twitter, he has spoken to the press, not fully about his detention but he has spoken about a lot of things. I think he is trying to find a balance, trying to find the new way, as he said it to me – a new way to play the game.
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY, ein Dokumentarfilm von Alison Klayman. Ab 14. Juni im Kino.