Saturday, May 29, 2010

The tool for change

Cube Light, by Ai Weiwei. Photograph: Miguel Villagran. (taken from the guardian)

I wrote the following piece for a Courage Forum in New York in the spring:

Art can sometimes be easily set aside into the supposedly self-contained 'art world'. Such a world can be considered safe in that it is traditionally set within museum walls; it does not invade the 'real world'.

But Ai Weiwei has proved such a viewpoint wrong. His work rather bursts out of any container; it screams. It frightens and threatens the attacked, which of late has been the Chinese government.

As we map out a list of courageous figures, we tend to look to the history of the past rather than of the present. It might be easier to study the past, since we have already acquired the personal distance that is gained with time. With such a distance, we are allowed to analyze the patterns of history with a more neutral eye. It is more challenging to react to the entangled complications of the present: we tend to not yet completely know how to evaluate it, how to react to it, or what to believe. The present is in fact frightening to face.

But there are courageous people, such as Ai, who do not wait for the safety and reassurance that come with personal detachment. They do not wait for history to happen; rather, they help shape that history by following their instincts.

Ai should be noted foremost for his honest and fierce approach to life: he has unfailingly stuck to his beliefs, unafraid of any perilous consequences. An important Chinese artist and activist, Ai is above all human. Whenever he speaks out in his work, he does is it out of a personal duty that he feels for humanity. Specifically, he has repeatedly spoken against the oppressive and corrupt actions of the Chinese government.

What is extraordinary about Ai is that his courage is in essence quite simple: he looks (and makes us look) and speaks. Indeed, it does not take a momentous gesture or a mind-blowing invention to display courage. Rather, Ai shows that we are all endowed with the tool for change, which is our human expression. However, it is such expression that is often censored in China. Ai has been considered troublesome at home and has been under government investigation and surveillance. His blog has been censored and eventually shut down. This situation, however, has not prevented Ai from continuing to assert his beliefs.

The most recent example that significantly testifies to Ai's courage was his project regarding the victims of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. He was in the process of compiling and publicizing the names of five thousand children whose school buildings had crushed them to death when the earthquake hit. Such a project in part arose out of anger towards the Chinese coverage of the earthquake, which curtailed the disastrous aftermath. His involvement in such an investigation eventually led to a severe beating on the head by Chinese officials, which later caused a cerebral hemorrhage. Despite such violent treatment, Ai continues to communicate with the world through his art and through the web. He will be having a major exhibition at the Tate this coming fall.

Even when Ai's work does not specifically attack a political situation, his intention is always to break down familiarity and numbness. He reminds us that we need to see the world through our own eyes, not through the government's, not through the media's. We need to respond to what we see. Indeed, Ai awakens our consciences in a profound, bold and risk-taking way.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I think I'm so sophisticated 'cos I'm living my life like a good homosapien,
But all around me everybody's multiplying and they're walking round like flies, man,
So I'm no better than the animals sitting in their cages in the zoo, man,
'Cos compared to the flowers and the birds and the trees I am an apeman.
I think I'm so educated and I'm so civilized 'cos I'm a strict vegetarian,
But with the over-population and inflation and starvation and the crazy politicians,
I don't feel safe in this world no more,
I don't want to die in a nuclear war,
I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an ape man.
I'm an apeman, I'm an ape, apeman,
Oh, I'm an apeman,
I'm a King Kong man, I'm a vood-doo man, oh I'm an apeman.
'Cos compared to the sun that sits in the sky,
Compared to the clouds as they roll by,
Compared to the bugs and the spiders and flies,
I am an apeman.

In man's evolution he has created the city and
The motor traffic rumble, but give me half a chance
And I'd be taking off my clothes and living in the jungle.
'Cos the only time that I feel at ease,
Is swinging up and down in a coconut tree,
Oh, what a life of luxury, to be like an apeman.
I'm an apeman, I'm an ape, apeman, Oh, I'm an apeman,
I'm a King Kong man, I'm a voo-doo man,
I am an ape man.
I look out the window, but I can't see the sky,
'Cos the air pollution is fogging up my eyes,
I want to get out of this city alive,
And make like an ape man.

- excerpt from "Apeman" by The Kinks

Friday, May 21, 2010

Excerpt from my short story "Hunger in America"

The sheets were soiled with shit and animated globs of red and brown blood that spread in a web of streams. The pale woman consumed the air about her in a way previously unfamiliar to her. She inhaled it, forcefully, from her oral, vaginal and nasal openings. Her body blown with cool, slow-rising air. She swallowed the accumulated thick salty spit in her mouth and closed her eyes to its slow descent down her throat, into her wide, empty belly. It was this moment that blessed her with the name mother. She took the baby by its wet rolls of fat, pressing her fingers into them, slipping her own sallow hard skin under the rolls' bright, flushed colors. We are one skin, she thought. The baby smelled of her, hot and metallic. She began to search for herself in the baby's crumply features that still looked stuck inside the skin, like small pink buds that hadn't flowered. But she was convinced that this baby - this baby that she had been feeding and consuming for months, and that she had finally thrown up - was she. Like a part of her that had just been violently broken off. The baby started to cry. The mother was surprised by this, that it had a voice of its own. She listened to the crying pleasingly. She was fascinated by the fact that these sharp, cutting wails came from somewhere inside of her.

"She's probably hungry," the nurse said half-irritated. The mother looked back at the nurse with those white-stained eyes of her that made her gaze broken, distracted. The mother took the baby to her breast and let it wildly suck on her nipple. The breast responded to the gravity of the baby's mouth as it moved and inflated and deflated to the flood of milk. The mother emptied, poured herself into this other self, a feeling that left her whole body mumbling.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The world: a place in which we humans inhabit; a vast space - initially as naked and as pure as the way in which we imagine the other glowing, distant planets. It is a silent place that speaks only in its shaking ground, tearing winds and growths. It is silent enough to let us manipulate it. So we have carved into and reaped from its belly and have become just as much a part of it as the sun that bleeds through it, and the darkness that penetrates. In possessing the world in our minds, we can forget that the world is first a very small place called Earth. The Earth is not the world. The world is a word so vast that it rises from the mouth and never descends to give a grounded answer. It is word that meanders about, that audaciously stretches and thickens until it shrinks and coils. It is always in search for an answer that is as big as itself. But it won't ever find it. Because the world - and the notion to know it - is a human concept. It is something concocted by the bubbly, hyperactive human mind. It is formless and floating. But we hold it and define it and call it dear.

The Earth is physically separate from and exterior to us, but the world has become a part of us. To know the world is to bloom and widen your senses. To reach out as far as you can with your body. You have to touch the world, see it, taste it and swallow it in order to know it. I do not know it. There are voices echoing everywhere right now. There are countless creatures pumping blood under water. Tears are currently collecting. Legs and legs are jerking to orgasms and someone is miserably poor. Something is being born. The world is never something whole. It is a vision that, once attained, is born bursting, and then splits and shatters.

But the Earth is physically something whole, rising, swelling with forms, with no boundaries, free with an air where everything can fit. It is plush and thick and living. But we, the knowledgeable we, are breaking it, thinning it, squeezing its juices as if we were crushing a sprouting flower, in order to make the earth our World. The World is a map - a place of boundaries, of countries, of stains across a globe. And so, sadly, this World is "us".