Wednesday, January 14, 2015

the last book I ever read (Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, excerpt seven)

from 2014 National Book Award Winner for Nonfiction Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos:

Beyond the obvious pressures from the security forces, becoming a dissident could torpedo your relationships with friends and patrons. In China, intellectuals were often suspicious of dissidents among them who had too many foreign admirers or who appeared less interested in achieving practical gains than in fueling the kind of overt political conflict shunned by classical Chinese thought. Ai Weiwei reveled in confrontation. Now that he was being followed by plainclothes state security agents, he started calling the cops on them, setting off a Marx Brothers muddle of overlapping police agencies: “an absurdist novel gone bad,” as he put it. He inverted the usual logic of art and politics: instead of enlisting art in the service of his protest, he enlisted the apparatus of authoritarianism into his art.

At times, he seemed congenitally incapable of cooperation. At one point, he was asked to create a piece that could fill a prominent site in Copenhagen usually occupied by Edvard Eriksen’s statue of the Little Mermaid, which was being loaned to Shanghai. Instead of replacing it with a statue, Ai decided to install a live closed-circuit video of the mermaid in her temporary home in China. The Danes thought the oversize surveillance camera that he designed was unattractive. “That’s our real life,” he said. “Everybody is under some kind of surveillance camera. It’s not beautiful.”

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