Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 24

Didn't watch Solaris after all, but worked instead.  The ground was hard when I jogged (the rain has stopped) and my knees feel okay today.  Maybe that's the thing?  Read more JG Ballard stories.  Still a bit bewildered.  We'll see.  I plan to watch a film by M. Carne called Port of Shadows this afternoon.  Avec Jean Gabin, comme on dit.  Alors.

In the audio lectures I'm listening to on the history and development of the Western Canon, the lecturer recently called More's Utopia an example of "intellectual goofiness."  He compared it to Monty Python and then to Plato's Republic.  Along with that I read, in the critical essays on Crime and Punishment, some comment to the effect that Plato's Symposium is, and is intended to be, a frequently funny book.  "Intellectual goofiness" is (I hope) at the heart of what I do--how I write, think.  Breathe.  Scuba.  So now of course I want to reread Utopia (and maybe the Symposium).  That's one thing that always irked me about Dostoevksy (and a whole host of other writers, obviously): they're not funny.  They don't even try to be funny.  I guess I'm just too British.

Saw a tremendously affecting piece on PBS last night (Frontline?) about Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.  I won't try to do justice to it here, but it's hugely rewarding if any of you all get a chance to watch it.  I'd never heard of Weiwei till last fall, when my wife and I saw a work of his at London's Tate Modern.  The work consisted of thousands and thousands of sunflower seeds spread out flat in a rectangle on the floor of the museum, taking up most of the floor space in one part of the lobby.  The 'seeds', upon closer inspection, revealed themselves to be man made.  An accompanying documentary described the process by which Weiwei employed local chinese women (mostly) to handcraft the seeds (they were made of clay, then fired into porcelain, if I recall).  It may not sound like much, but it was actually pretty affecting.  A vast carpet of human-made objects that resembled natural objects.... It stayed with you.  (For images, go here.)

Anyway, it turns out that "Seeds" is maybe the least impressive and moving of his works.  Because he's been critical of the Chinese government, he's constantly being harassed.  He's videotaped everywhere he goes; his web site is constantly being shut down, and in 2009 a beating he received from Chinese police caused him to have to be hospitalized for internal cranial bleeding.  The image I loved from the documentary was of Weiwei and friends eating dinner outside at a restaurant.  As police officials start to videotape him as he eats, he sends one of his entourage, who himself has a video camera, to videotape the police...videotaping him.  It was very funny and somewhat surreal; the Chinese police were obviously discomfited by the man standing right next to them with a camera, but they let it go on, probably because the whole situation is too surreal for them to fully process.  Which I guess is part of Weiwei's point.  Not that the act was to have a point so much as just to rankle them.  As of one Weiwei's friends remarked in the piece: Weiwei has a bit of a hooligan in him, and this is useful if you're going to oppose the Chinese state, since what they are, in their essence, is hooligans.

Anyway: Ai Weiwei.  Look out for him.


Barbara Carlson said...

"Ai WeiWei, the famed Chinese artist and activist, most known for his work on the Bird's Nest building for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was braving the Chinese government's decision to demolish his newly built studio in Shanghai with gumption and a bit of humor, choosing to throw a huge bash in the building prior to its destruction. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade! Unfortunately, Shanghai officials found WeiWei's party less amusing and placed the artist under arrest in Beijing halting his satirical celebration. WeiWei's arrest reinforces existing tensions between the artist and the Chinese government- following a previous arrest the artist was hospitalized after some severe brutality was endured."

I hear he is moving to Berlin.

I saw this on line: He is able to think macro and micro.
Live as if you are dying tomorrow and living forever.

Barbara Carlson said...

"This" meaning the video.

Barbara Carlson said...

Can you give us a written picture of what it was like to walk on the seeds. From the video, you can hear it, but is it like walking on beach shells? Was it dusty? How man are let in at one time to walk on it? Were there plainclothes officials making sure nobody stole any? Were you tempted?

I have a catalogued collection of 2,800 small objects* I've picked up -- mostly off the ground/street -- it would have been a sore trial for me to resist, had I been there.)

They are all numbered/scanned and I make digital images with them.


And as for the humourless writers, who needs them.
The Brits have cornered the market, pretty much, as least led the way to learning while laughing. E.g., Simon Schama or Alan Bennett or Bill Bryson or Tim Moore. Is that "great art" is supposed to be serious?

ANCIANT said...

I know that in that video it said that visitors were allowed to walk on the seeds but somehow I don't remember that being the case. I know that I didn't walk on them, for sure. Maybe you could walk on them with your shoes off? Or maybe you had to be a kid? Or maybe I did walk on them, and don't remember. I'm not sure. Sorry.

Barbara Carlson said...

I did hear that after the first few days, crowds were not allowed to walk on the seeds "due to the dust" levels.