House Arrest Hasn't Kept Ai Weiwei from Doing What He Does Best

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The Chinese government shutdown Ai Weiwei's self-surveillance project commemorating the year anniversary of his own arrest, so we thought we'd look back at what the Chinese artist has been up to since the government put him under house arrest. After his release from detention last June, the Chinese government continued its watch of Ai Weiwei, putting him under constant surveillance and house arrest. As a commentary on all the surveillance in his life, Ai Weiwei installed his own set of cameras in his home, kind of like a We Live in Public thing.  "In my life, there is so much surveillance and monitoring"  he told the Agence France-Presse (by way of CNN). "So I was wondering, why don't I put some (cameras) in there so people can see all my activities. I can do that and I hope the other party (authorities) can also show some transparency." The Chinese government promptly shut that experiment down, leading us to wonder, what has the government permitted the artist to do while under constant watch?


Even under house arrest, Ai Weiwei has continued creating. As early as the beginning of July, a Swiss gallery owner who worked with the artist said he was back at work, noted The New York Times. Unable to leave the country, the artist did a Skype collaboration with W magazine, to create a photo shoot of Rikers in October. He's also working with Swiss architect Peter Zumthor to design a pavilion for the London Olympics this summer. His works continued in exhibition around the world, the artist appearing in a Martin-Gropius-Bau museum exhibition called “ARTandPRESS” and at the Asia Society, for example. And he continued selling works, with the Tate Modern buying 8 million of the 100 million pieces of the artist's Sunflower Seeds installation. 

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With the government watching, Ai Weiwei continued his criticism of its censorship, writing a scathing piece for Newsweek last August, in which he calls Beijing a nightmare. He continued to use the Twitter-like service, Weibo, until the government shut his account down after its enforcement of the real name policy. He's on Twitter, which links to what we assume is his blog, and has joined Google+. As far as press, he spoke out against the government in a tame interview with Chinese paper the Global Times, gave an interview with The New York Times about his two-plus-month detention, which he described as "a kind of mental torture, it works well," and also participated in an MSNBC livechat, where he touched on Occupy Wall Street, among other things. 

Dealing with China Stuff

A few months after his release, the Chinese government accused Ai of ten year's worth of tax evasion, serving him with a $2.4 million bill days after his release in June. After the announcement, supporters sent in lots of donations, which the artist used to appeal the fine. Two weeks ago, the Chinese government told Ai that he would not be given the public trial he had requested, but instead a written hearing for his appeal. 

Staying in the Public Eye 

Along with all his commentary to the press and via social media and art projects, locked up in his house, Ai Weiwei has done a pretty good job maintaining his public figure status. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, the documentary about the dissident debuted at this year's Sundance, winning the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Defiance prize. The film has a planned summer release. He also accepted a position at Berlin University of the Arts as a visiting lecture, even though the Chinese government may not let him leave the country. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.