Ai Weiwei: artist-avatar
Contemporary Art | Contemporary prophet whose political activism has captivated western society, Ai Weiwei is at the helm of an array of projects despite being confined to China. And his mastery of social media, essential to international visibility and an unlimited audience, has become his avatar and impacted all communications data. Enter a large-scale strategy.
Ai Weiwei’s retrospective exhibition, Evidence, which began in April 2014 at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, is the latest in a long line of western exhibitions. Evidence stands out through its sheer size (18 rooms and 3,000 m2) and the fact that the artist, although absent, is omnipresent. Among the pieces and installations specially devised for this event, six full-scale dioramas depict his detention in China; this fibreglass reconstruction, in volume, presented at the 2013 Venice Biennial and Brooklyn Museum, is a detailed model of the 81 days of his imprisonment (interrogation scenes, his daily life in the cells, etc.).
Ai Weiwei is also on board on two significant and participative projects : 1) Firstly, he has lent his image to short film The Sand Storm, produced by Jason Wishnow, taking on the leading role. Available on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform, the $33k needed to finance the film was raised in three days rather than the 33 expected. 2) He worked with Olafur Eliasson for Moon by Ai Weiwei & Olafur Eliasson, unveiled during the 2013 Falling Walls Conference. The project consists of a virtual moon on a website where Internet users can express themselves through drawing and words. With the option to share it on social networks, more than 60,000 designs have now been created with Moon. It is interesting to note that the organisation developing around Ai Weiwei skilfully masters everything from the real to the virtual, exhibition execution, logistics and communications and digital strategy, giving a viral dimension to all of his actions, with Twitter his media of choice. While his personal account has around 242k followers, English-language versions such as aiww_en and aiwwenglish (6k and 30k followers respectively at present) have emerged on the web. Administrated by translation communities, followers support the artist by spreading his message. Using the Internet as both a means of creation and a communications driver, the artist has thus infiltrated the networks and produced an effective method of communication through the very phenomenon of his absence and, more specifically, the frustration generated by the lack of a physical presence. In our ultra-connected society, Ai Weiwei has managed to create an « I virtual » - an avatar and relentlessly powerful computer-based transmission of himself and his image.