"The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion" Albert Camus
Last night I finished reading Carlos Ruiz Safon's, the romantic and obscure, Shadow of the Wind, an enigmatic story about a young and charismatic boy whose life changes up-side-down when he finds a mysterious novel in a dusty shelf of a massive old library, a 'cemetery of forgotten books'. What I've loved about this book is that it treats a life of a high-principled bibliophiles struggling in Barcelona that heals in the aftermath of the Spanish War. I started questioning, where have those book appreciators gone, like species critically endangered with extinction, have they survived the madness and pragmatism of modern life?
I am clearly not one of them ( I wish I was), but I decided to make a list of books that had a big impact on me; and as a huge admirer of all 'existentialist' both in visual art and literature, one of the first books that came to my mind was Albert Camus' philosophical "The Rebel"...
Ai Wei Wei calls himself "the best remote-control artist" for he has coordinated almost all of his exhibitions from afar, being numerously placed under house arrest in Beijing and eventually incarcerated for 81 days in 2011 by the Chinese authorities without any official charges being filed, whilst his Shanghai studio was illegally bulldozed. This caused a lot of political protests, petitions and 'Free Ai Wei Wei' street art campaigns around the world. After being released from his detention, the Chinese provocateur creates a disturbing yet courageous installation S.A.C.R.E.D, featuring six iron boxes displaying detailed scenes of his imprisonment, a silent images of mini Ai eating, sleeping, taking shower, being interrogated and watched at all times by two uniformed guards.
The Chinese artist, political activist and dissident, whose work is currently presented at the Royal Academy of Arts, became a megastar over the last few years. Through his body of work, that comes out of the minimalist and conceptualist traditions of US artists, filled with Duchampian readymade objects, Ai Wei Wei openly criticises the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights, investigating many cases of his country’s corruption, cover-ups and social issues, continuously speaking out of exploitation and injustice. For instance, his moving and monumental installation STRAIGHT, consisting of 150 tonnes of steel bars, which Ai recovered from the site of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake is dedicated to the victims of the disaster. Placing on the walls, along the epic artwork, the names of 5,196 dead children, the artist condemns the local authority for its lack of transparency in revealing victim names, disregard of safety regulations and the shoddy construction of school buildings in the province.
I think Ai's work expresses a lot of that Camusian morality: the duty to love. The novelist's revolt that he insists repeatedly in "The Rebel" is a road to social justice, piece and unconditional selfless love for every single human being. Earlier in his "Carnet" Camus declares "If I had to write a book on morality, it would have a hundred pages and ninety-nine would be blank. On the last page, I would write 'I know only one duty, and that is to love.'"
In the shady and commercialised world of art, that has become perverted and devious, where every other human being is an ''artist'' or a ''collector'', Ai Wei Wei keeps on fighting, creating a devotional art work that furiously screams, manifests and materialises Camus', "I rebel, therefore We exist".