I wish I could read Chinese to understand Ai Weiwei’s Twitter feed. He often updates it every few minutes. Through the help of Google Translator, I was able to approximate one recent post, “If there is no sewer, there would be no new China,” which I like even though it’s probably garbled. After watching “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” I became an unabashed fan. The guy is awesome: I can’t gauge the quality of his art, but he’s got to be one of the most effective political troublemakers in the world. And with the release of the documentary this Friday, Chinese authorities should be concerned. He’s about to get more support.
As I wrote in a Village Voice article for the film’s Human Rights Watch Film Fest premiere, “The Chinese art-star of the title emerges as a stirring symbol of antiauthoritarianism—and also as the kind of magnetic, irreverent prankster you’d want to dine with…”
“[Director Alison] Klayman tracks Ai over the course of two years and documents the brazen performance-piece-style agit-art stunts that so often infuriate the authorities in his homeland. After being struck in the head by a cop, Ai and a team of camcorder-wielding assistants file a complaint in person at a police station and then go out for dinner, drawing fans and causing trouble. At the time, Ai tweeted, “There are no outdoor sports as graceful as throwing stones at a dictatorship.”
Besides Ai’s “hooligan side,” as one of his colleagues describes him, Klayman uncovers the serious underpinnings of his art and activism. At one point, the camera clandestinely captures an exchange between the artist and his mother, who confesses, “I’m worried that Mommy won’t see you again.” Ai dismisses her concerns, but Never Sorry hinges on a final twist that proves that even celebrated provocateurs aren’t immune from tyranny.
Last week, Ai Weiwei lost his appeal of a $2.4 million tax evasion case that was widely seen as an effort to derail his antigovernment activism. “If we don’t keep suing them,” he said, “we’re giving up our basic responsibility as citizens.”