Post-Olympic Society

Thoughts on Ai Weiwei Speaks With Hans Ulrich Obrist

/ by JAŠA (Mrevlje-Pollak)

“I think we have a chance today to become everything and nothing at the same time. We can become part of a reality but we can be totally lost and not know what to do.”

-Ai Weiwei Speaks With Hans Ulrich Obrist


This book offers an insight into one of the most influential and productive artists of the moment, Ai Weiwei, and not by chance was he interviewed by another “insanely” creative and influential mind, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.


Still as students, Peter Furlan, who later on became one of the Crash In Progress (an art group I co-founded and was part of from 1999-2005, with Giorgio Andreotta Calò, Martina DeLugnani, Simone Settimo and Peter Furlan), along with other fellow students invited someone who was, at the time, a rising star on a groundbreaking globalized platform. Hans Ulrich Obrist was to be part of a series of talks and presentations. To be honest, I cannot recall precisely the topic or the title, but I do recall that it was the first time I’d come across the work of Rem Koolhaas, art meets architecture and vice versa and, above all, public art. Another thing I remember was his energy, his ability to jump from one topic to another in a seemingly organic or completely disoriented way. It is true that those were the beginnings of the informatics boom in which we are now all immersed, and that the generation of that moment (Obrist and the like-minded) embraced the democratization of information, it’s endless spreading and potential, with a tip-toeing hug.


It was also the beginning of cheaper flights and increasing numbers of new art programs all over the world. Asia, all of a sudden, came on the map and traveling and discovering hidden talents, building bridges, connecting ideas, researching, accumulating new data on everything possible became the new must. I remember the buzz in the room, the excitement, the enthusiasm, the adrenalin. Half way through his firing of words and images, as we all started feeling dizzy but strangely inspired, he tapped his suit pocket, where one could see the airplane ticket sticking out throughout the whole talk, saying: “Once I’m done here, I need to fly to the next destination, this is what it is all about.” And he did: We managed to stop him for one short drink, hoping that, in a more intimate situation, as young and ambitious artists, we could get even more out of him. But that was it. He gave it all on the “stage” and his mind was already on to the next mission.


Everyone who went through any kind of academic teaching can, without a problem, recall how easy it was to deny or even hate anything that was linked to the new media in the late 90s and in the beginning of the new millennium. Anything that had to do with data and art, or internet and art, researching and art, or the so despised word, “utopia.” Well, it is definitely easier to hide under the cloth of established media of communication and its philosophies, as it is extremely easy to embrace any media at its beginnings, for its stamp of freshness. But I must admit that the enthusiasm was contagious, and that the new challenges were out there. For us, as the new generation coming, it was a must; a new set of tools of communication that we had to face and understand, in order to build up our own relevance.


“We’re actually a part of the reality, and if we don’t realize that, we are totally irresponsible. We are a productive reality. We are the reality, but that part of reality means we need to produce another reality. This is an artistic statement as well as a political one. It reminds us of the essential need for cultural and political action in the current situation.”

-Ai Weiwei Speaks With Hans Ulrich Obrist


For artists at any stage or age, it is of most importance to tune in with the thought processes of other artists as, from my point of view, the basic research in art is to establish its conceptual structure, which is the necessary skeleton of any artwork, action or stance. And books like this are priceless in one’s quest to truly understand one’s work and to broaden one’s own. From this point of view, the opportunities we have today to be really informed, spanning from Renaissance writings to updated contemporary artists (the last interview in this book was concluded in 2016) is astonishing.


If I put aside the most valuable merits of the globalized and growing village of the contemporary art scene, a peering question is: What does it do or give to somebody outside the art community? Artists tend to be perceived as stars, with everything that comes along with that label, especially the likes of Ai Weiwei or other blue chips or “darlings” of the art scene. Not necessarily a status that does embrace conceptually multilayered and hyper-productive artists a favor in the long run. At some point, a continuous growth of an artist and his work, society and its individuals, by human default, demand a decline. An identification moment which needs to see a “god” fall, down on earth, into the mud and simply human again.


Undoubtedly, many artists seek mere stardom for the benefits of popularity and increased options of money-making. But mere narcissism is a multi-layered and general human condition. We do not need to look far to see and understand how this seemingly underlying current has captivated the world, from sports to arts and, most of all, politics. What it is wrongly mistaken is the ambition to be influential, to responsibly exercise the power of visibility through a codex of viral, (pro)active rights and needs of expression.


Already a quick look at the talk that these two men captured in the book can illustrate most of all the second, the active notion of responsibility. At the same time, a very important thing I need to stress is the optimistic approach that runs throughout all of the issues, even if dealing with the most inhuman conditions and facts of contemporary society; the inexhaustible need to practice, alive and breathing, the pulse of the faith in the good of us, as humans, as individuals in one way or another consciously-influencing and molding the current conditions of contemporary society.


“Since we are an inhuman society, we should have such an inhuman city. It serves our society well.”

-Ai Weiwei Speaks With Hans Ulrich Obrist


Doubts are part of creative process, and it is only honest to communicate them as such. That is the power of art. As it is to inspire which, in my opinion, is the strongest charter of this book (if it can, in any way, be seen, as an isolated case, taken away from either Weiwei’s and Obrist's vocation and purpose). The general feel is that defiance, in any given situation, is an act of creation, and that that can be achieved today through any given media of choice and communication. Of course, it does not apply that it is enough to simply tackle it, or scratch the surfaces, as Walid Raad would concur. It is important to dig deep, fearlessly and with the utmost determination that goes out of your own egocentric perception. It is the self-as-a-medium that prevails, the hard and continuous work that stands at the back that makes a difference. The incredible opportunity we have today, as humans, to be turned into a great creative process in action, in progress, with daily visible achievements that do and can make a significant difference, both good and bad.


“If artists betray the social conscience and the basic principles of being human, where does art stand then?”

-Ai Weiwei Speaks With Hans Ulrich Obrist

JAŠA (Mrevlje-Pollak)

is a Slovenian artist who lives and works in Ljubljana, Venice and New York.