“Modern society is a ruin, in our emotions and our judgement.” On the occasion of ‘The Rest’ (2019), a documentary featuring his encounters with refugees, Ai Weiwei – one of the most influential artists of our time – speaks open-heartedly about the global refugee crisis, which calls for individual action: “There is so much we can do – it is our acts which define us as unique individuals.”
For the film ‘Human Flow’ (2017), which talks about the global refugee condition on a grand scale, Weiwei visited 40 different camps spread out across 20 nations: “That gave me a first-hand knowledge because I interviewed over 600 people.” Weiwei – who himself was a refugee as a child due to his father’s exilement in 1957 – was curious to see how the “modern, civilized world” dealt with the refugee situation, and soon realized that the refugees were basically being “pushed away by Europe” without thought for human rights or human dignity. Europe’s focus was simply on depositing the refugees somewhere else, making the refugee crisis just as much about the questionable European condition: “Is it possible to maintain this kind of state? To say: We are human but we are different. We have empathy but not toward certain people?” No matter where in the world the refugees are from, Weiwei continues, they have all had to leave behind their home and dreams in order to find a peaceful place to build a future. This is also what he examines in the film ‘The Rest’ (2019), which focuses on the individual refugees before and after they end up living in political limbo in Europe, in an overloaded and prejudiced system: “A few refugees can survive this game, but most of them become human waste.”
Ai Weiwei considers modern society a wreck: “It purposely separates individuals from reality.” Human rights, he continues, is based on the efforts of individuals: “There is no such thing as human rights. So every generation has to redefine what human rights are in our time.” This essential question, Weiwei feels, hasn’t been asked for far too long. We must act, for if we simply accept the corruption and goings-on “we become part of the crime.”
Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) is a Chinese artist and filmmaker. Weiwei has been openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights. His activity as a dissident has gone hand in hand with his artistic career, and he has continued to produce work testifying to his political beliefs. Weiwei has exhibited widely, major solo exhibitions including Tate Modern in London, MoMA in New York, Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan and Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles. Among his most noteworthy work is ‘Still Life’ (1993-2000), ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’ (1995), ‘Study of Perspective Tiananmen Square’ (1995), ‘Forever Bicycles’ (2003), ‘Fountain of Light’ (2007), ‘Straight’ (2008-12), ‘Sunflower Seeds’ (2010), ‘S.A.C.R.E.D.’ (2012) and ‘Stools’ (2013). In 2017 his epic film journey ‘Human Flow’ participated in the 74th Venice International Film Festival and was followed up two years later by ‘The Rest’ (2019). Architectural collaborations include the 2012 Serpentine Pavilion and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium with Herzog and de Meuron. Weiwei is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent by the Human Rights Foundation (2012) and the Ambassador of Conscience Award by Amnesty International (2015). Having lived abroad for several years, he currently resides and works in Beijing. For more see: http://www.aiweiwei.com/
Ai Weiwei was interviewed by Christian Lund at the Louisiana Museum of Modern art in Humlebæk, Denmark in March 2019.
In the video, stills are shown from ‘Human Flow’ (2017) and ‘The Rest’ (2019) by Ai Weiwei. Courtesy of the artist.
Camera: Kasper Bech Dyg and Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen
Produced by: Christian Lund
Edited by: Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen
Colourgrading: Will J. Løkken
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2019
Supported by Nordea fonden