He shot a total of 10,000 photos in New York between 1983 and 1993, out of sheer boredom. “Maybe there is a thought, but I just can’t remember it anymore,” says Ai Weiwei in an interview published by DISTANZ. “Everything becomes more accurate.”
It's one big puzzle
The fleeting reality, out of which the artist took his photographs, came into clearer focus, becoming a kind of evidence of his experiences. The photographs, taken randomly and unintentionally, ultimately come together to form a big puzzle. The artist was himself surprised by this. So that was New York City.
America – the land of dreams?
Dissident Ai Weiwei arrived in America from China in 1983 in the middle of a personal crisis. He hoped to be able to submerse himself into life as an artist in complete freedom in New York. But even as this wish came true, he experienced another crisis: Ultimately, life in this vibrant city seemed empty and stressful to him. Was this the American dream?
The ideals of American society – to acquire wealth, property and a family – were not something Ai Weiwei wished to pursue. While others did this, he was bored. This led him to killing time by taking pictures. In the city he found himself “wandering here and there, like my cats.”
In hindsight, it was quite an exciting time, both artistically and politically, and Ai Weiwei was active in the Chinese artist and intellectual community in the East Village. At the same time, he was taking photos of his Chinese and American friends, as well as of the drag queens at the Wigstock Festival, the homeless on the Bowery and the squatters in Tompkins Square Park.
As liberal as New York seemed in the ‘80s, Ai Weiwei’s photographs, especially those from Tompkins Square Park, clearly highlight socio-critical points of friction. America – the land of opportunity?
In the end
“I wasn’t disappointed with America because I didn’t have too many hopes for it,” he stated in the aforementioned interview. “I went hoping to be an artist and in the end, I still am an artist.”
Ai Weiwei did feel a little “left out.” Perhaps that’s just the bottom line for an artist, wherever he lives. He returned to Beijing in 1993.
But whether it originated out of boredom or not, in any event we are very happy to be able to share in Ai Wei Wei’s great inspiring puzzle and are curious about its future pieces.
- Martin-Gropius-Bau, "Ai Weiwei in New York – Fotografien 1983-1993", until March 18, 2012, Wednesday to Monday 10 to 8 pm, from January 11 on: 10 to 7 p.m.