Giving the finger for a cause

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

on July 27, 2012 by Sara Maria Vizcarrondo

ai_weiwei.jpgAi WeiWei's "Sunflower Seeds" is an installation consisting of over ten million, hand-painted, ceramic sunflower seeds. It's teasingly "Made in China." And it also highlights the fact WeiWei's artwork isn't made by one man—or for one person. Much in the same way Matthew Akers' doc Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present pulled the curtain on the methods of a master artist, Never Sorry watches WeiWei in his studio, directing sculptors, supervising woodworkers and configuring the number of backpacks needed to spell out "She lived happily for seven years in this world" in Chinese characters. Those words were written by parents of a child killed in a "tofu-skin school," a category of government-financed buildings that collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake, later beginning the "Sichuan school corruption scandal." Reporting on the number of dead or lost as a result of this governmental carelessness is a matter avoided for fear of reprisals, which is part of why WeiWei's art is so heroic. The man China hired to design Beijing's Olympic "Bird's Nest" rode a tidal wave of popularity directly into the trenches of aggressive activism.

WeiWei was trained in film—an education indebted less to celluloid than to a resourceful approach to creation—but today his work is conceptual, incorporating the immediacy of news and human rights into installations that often double as public works and trenchant icons of national identity. It's possible that the most loving thing WeiWei can do for China is work there, even if doing so risks his safety: his dissent demonstrates a depth of commitment that resonates in every project. Journalist and director Allison Klayman doesn't mask her awe of the man, who comes off as a cross between a wise Buddha-figure and Santa Claus—he's made for history, and he's making it. Even as the film's running time marches on, we see him admitted to the hospital with a head wound (possibly caused by an episode with police officers), and later taken into custody and committed to house arrest. His period of public silence is a beautifully tense passage—a patch of absence that points to the likelihood our fear of censorship isn't its ability to inhibit expression, but its ability to break our spirits. It's reason enough to sound a rally cry.

Distributor: Sundance Selects
Director: Alison Klayman
Producer: Allison Klayman, Adam Schlesinger
Genre: Documentary
Rating: R for some language.
Running time: 91 min.
Release date: July 27

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