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Background - 01.02.2023 - 09:20 

Ai Weiwei at the University of St.Gallen – the artist addresses a full house at SQUARE

World-renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei talks about art, education, China, Switzerland and the value of humanity with SQUARE artistic director Philippe Narval and HSG art market expert Laura Noll.

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.  

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Livestream of the conversation from Monday, 30 January 2023

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. 

Ai Weiwei
“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.”
Ai Weiwei

Photo galery

President Prof. Dr. Bernhard Ehrenzeller

Ai Weiwei

Audience

Audience

Ai Weiwei, Philippe Narval and Laura Noll

Ai Weiwei, Philippe Narval and Laura Noll

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.

"If you have fixed answers, you don't have to ask questions. (...) You have to find your answers through your own practice." 

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. 

"I fully appreciate what life already gave to me, so there's nothing to be scared of."

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.

"Every civilized society has hypocrisy. (...) Forget about right or wrong, or policy, but compassion is our core stone of humanity."

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

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