Ai Weiwei, one of the most adored and influential - some might say, most dangerous - artists of our time, is our guest on the third English-language episode of “Alles gesagt?” (“Nuff Said?“), ZEIT’s never-ending podcast.
Ai Weiwei is not only an artist, he’s also an architect (he helped design the National Stadium in Beijing) and a filmmaker (he directed the Oscar-nominated documentary "Human Flow”). He is also well-known as a political activist for his fight for democracy and freedom of speech in his home country and for his criticism of the Chinese government for its censorship.
The hosts of “Alles gesagt?“, Jochen Wegner and Christoph Amend, met with Ai Weiwei in his Berlin studio this August.
Ai Weiwei was born 1957 in Beijing as a son of author Ai Qing, a highly esteemed poet under Mao in the early 1950s. Ai grew up in re-education camps with his family after his father fell from grace with the Mao regime and was banned in 1961. (He was rehabilitated in 1976, two years after Mao’s death).
In 1978, Ai Weiwei started studying animation at the film academy in Beijing before moving to New York in the 1980s. He lived in the U.S. until the early 90s, returning to Beijing in 1993 due to the illness of his father and becoming established as an artist in his home country. He had a major international breakthrough with his work “Fairytale," displayed at documenta 12 in 2007, a piece which brought 1,001 Chinese people to Kassel.
Ai Weiwei has been arrested several times for his political activism. In 2011, he spent 81 days in solitary confinement, an event which was accompanied by a wave of international protest. His passport wasn't returned to him until 2015, at which time he left China for Germany, living in Berlin between 2015 and 2019, where he held a guest professorship at Berlin University of the Arts. In 2019, he decided to move to Cambridge with his family, criticizing Germany for its intolerance and racism, but he still runs his studio in Berlin.
In this episode, Ai Weiwei talks about his Chinese roots, his adventures in the United States, and his experience with living in Germany. He explains his love for blackjack and criticizes the global art market.
For the first time, our infinite podcast did not come to an end. Ai Weiwei is the first guest who did not choose a Schlusswort (final word) to signify the end of our conversation, and simply left. So we are still recording.