Background - 01.02.2023 - 09:20
The works of the Chinese contemporary artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei reflect current geopolitical and social issues and are exhibited all over the world. His appearance as a guest "Artist in Residence" was arranged by Uli Sigg, who was himself invited to SQUARE last September as "Personality in Residence". In addition to the public event on the spacious first floor of SQUARE, Ai Weiwei participated in two events with students and lecturers. "Active dialogue with artists is part of the education at HSG," said Rector Bernhard Ehrenzeller in his address. The examination of works by Giacometti, Miro, Richter, Yan Pei-Ming, to name a few, have shaped the campus for 50 years.
Serene and somewhat smiling, Ai Weiwei takes the stage. He is in St.Gallen for the very first time. Curious, he takes on the questions from the two hosts. He answers in a quiet voice, calmly and thoroughly. The famous artist is above all a thoughtful person. He tries to find the right words that convey his feelings accurately. How much his works are worth on the art market is of little interest to him.
“I would not do art, if that work wouldn't relate to human emotions or humanity. Aesthetics relate to moral judgment and philosophy. (...) A design is not just to find the right form, but rather to have a more profound interpretation of who you are.”
What constitutes "good education"? Merely accumulating knowledge and skills is a waste of time, according to Ai Weiwei. He believes that university education focuses too much on competition. What is important is the training of humanity – of compassion and understanding for other ways of thinking, and literature is a good school for this. It is less about answers than about the right questions.
What is important in life? A handful of good friends and seeing life as a gift, Ai Weiwei sums up. He does not worry about what others think about him or his art. The artist reacts touched to questions about his family. Like his son today, Ai Weiwei did not listen to his father – when he fled from his home country to New York with only 30 dollars in his pocket and barely speaking English. He misses personal contact with his 90-year-old mother, who remains in China. The cell phone and videophone, he notes critically of the media, could never be a substitute for real encounters.
Of course, the evening is also about China. Ai Weiwei considers the efficiency and speed with which the Chinese people react to change to be the strength of his home country. The standard of living, especially in the cities, has improved significantly over the years. Controls by the state, however, are becoming ever stronger. In the West, citizens have freedoms and rights. But migration policies in Europe are hypocritical, criticizes Ai Weiwei. As an artist, he is always an activist. He does not look away. People die in the sea, he says, while social and political solutions are discussed.
Ai Weiwei at SQUARE – was an evening of big questions and quiet tones. The artist himself is a defender of humanity and is at times both cynical and prepared to hear a joke. For him, art and humanity are inseparable… and the audience listened to him spellbound.
Images: Salome Bänziger