Weiwei-isms Hardcover – Dec 5 2012
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One of The Village Voice's Favorite Books for 2012
One of Big Think's Best Art Books of 2012
One of Huffington Post's Best Art Books for 2012, List of the 50 Greatest Creative Publications
"Warsh has collected statements from Weiwei on topics ranging from technology to Twitter, freedom of speech to the power of action, and creativity to morality. Although loosely divided into chapters, the book and its brief but powerful quotations all reference back to humanity and the rights of all its members. Unfailingly pithy and refreshingly modest, the book reads quickly and conversationally. Inspirational through its simplicity and generating feelings of complicity, Weiwei succeeds in creating obsessed readers and his desire for obsessed citizens, in China and the world at large, cannot be far behind."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"[H]ere is a man who understands how to get messages to people. His expertise in artful dissemination is the 21st-century equivalent of Andy Warhol's brilliant populism. . . . [E]pigrammatic, pungent, uncompromising."--Peter Aspden, Financial Times
"Physically Weiwei-isms is a black, small hardbound book, fitting nicely into a jacket pocket and meant to be carried around, perused at chance moments and ruminated on. It knowingly bears a resemblance to the little red books that were given out by Chairman Mao in order to popularize his philosophies to his subjects. Yet, brainwashing is not the dastardly attempt of the author this time; it is more akin to brain-widening. Take a look for yourself. I feel safe in saying that some statement, one of his turns of phrase, will hit you like a punch in the gut, likely leaving an emotional bruise that will take great time and thought to recover from."--Luke Goldstein, Blogcritics
"If it's even possible to put a whole person into your pocket, Weiwei-isms comes close. . . . Unlike The Little Red Book, carrying Weiwei-isms isn't compulsory, but you'll find yourself compelled to read it again and again and fit it into your head and heart, if not your pocket."--Bob Duggan, Big Think
"For those who have been moved by his struggles with the Chinese authorities, who admire his art or dance along to his irreverent interpretation of Psy's 'Gangnam Style', taken up by artists and museums across the world on YouTube, Ai Weiwei's little book of sayings is for you."--Sarah Greenberg, Editor of RA Magazine
"This little book collects Ai's aphorisms, or 'Weiwei-isms,' distilled thoughts culled from Ai's writings, interviews, and Twitter posts on freedom of expression, human rights, art and activism, power and the government, and moral choices. . . . As brilliant and serious as Ai is, he is also companionable and uplifting."--Booklist
"Although this book, a collection of quotes from Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, is only four by five inches in dimension, it contains powerful and dangerous ideas. Powerful for general readers: 'Creativity is part of human nature. It can only be untaught.' And dangerous to China's leaders: 'The people who control culture in China have no culture.' Chinese authorities have beaten and jailed Ai, destroyed his studio, and threatened his loved ones because he won't stop denouncing government oppression. Buy this book to keep his brave words alive, since, as he points out, 'The government computer has one button: delete.'"--R.C. Baker, Village Voice
"PERFECT FOR: Dissidents-in-training, Ai fans and anyone with a Twitter handle."--Huffington Post
"His quotations, collected from his own writings, interviews and Tweets, offer musings on art, politics and Chinese life. They also show us the man himself: uncompromising, upfront, amusing, and charismatic, with an often wicked sense of humour."--Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, The Independent
"The little black book of Weiwei-isms packs a serious, pensive punch."--Karen Day, Cool Hunting
"Don't let the size fool you. Ai Weiwei's 'little black book' will leave a lasting impression."--Sylvia Tsai, ArtAsiaPacific
"This wonderful little book of memorable quotes from the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei--culled from his numerous videos and posts on his blog and Twitter--encourages us to accept the challenges of life and to use our time on this earth to stand up for human rights and a better life for all."--John May, Generalist
"Weiwei-isms is not another trite collection of quotes gathered for the casual reader. From a man who admonishes 'Say what you need to say plainly, and then take responsibility for it' comes this short, frank, and thoughtful collection that does just that."--Michael Abatemarco, Pasatiempo, New Mexican
From the Back Cover
"Ai Weiwei is unquestionably one of the most important artists of our time. His practice encompasses the production of objects, the circulation of information, and politics in a manner that is absolutely unique. This worthy compilation of short quotations will introduce a broad audience to his thought and activism, and makes clear the scope and span of this truly global artist."--David Joselit, author of After Art
"First, there was Confucius. Then, the sayings of Chairman Mao. And now the pithy, ironic, and humorous insights of Ai Weiwei. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection, which reflects a well-developed philosophy as well as a keen understanding of the Chinese Communist system. This is China made easy and interesting."--Jerome A. Cohen, New York University
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I didn’t expect a publication that has been touted as one of the “Best Art Books of 2012″ to stand just six inches tall and contain only two photographs. But as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s new book Weiwei-isms proves, small can be powerful.
This slim, pocket-sized volume compiles quotes made by Ai in interviews, in newspaper articles, on his blog, and via Twitter. “Chairman Mao was the first in the world to use Twitter,” says Ai. “All his quotations are within 140 words.” Weiwei-isms, published by Princeton University Press and designed by Pamela Schnitter with art direction by Maria Lindenfeldar, is brilliantly executed, and the high-quality paper and sewn binding are a pleasure to leaf through.
Ai’s reference to Mao is important, for his book cleverly satirizes the Chairman’s infamous book of quotations, ironically referred to as the Little Red Book in the West.
It is uncommon for a visual artist to privilege words over images, but that is precisely what Ai has done again and again over the course of his career. In a culture where free-speech is suppressed, direct discourse has exceptional value—a value that Western society has largely forgotten in this age of political hyperbole, Internet blather, and ad speak.
It is one thing to create art that skirts government censors through subtlety and ambiguity (as artists have done in repressed societies for centuries), and quite another to wear your politics on your sleeve (or your Twitter feed, in this case). As Ai discovered, such boldness can quickly get you thrown into prison, or worse.
For Ai, “this struggle is a ‘war of words,’” says editor Larry Warsh in his introduction to Weiwei-isms, ”and his own words—spoken, written, or tweeted—are ‘like a bullet out of the gun,’” “Ai Weiwei repeatedly points out, and centuries of history attest, human rights and freedom of expression are not set by anyone’s agenda. They are inalienable rights, central to what makes us human.”
Both Ai’s Twitter feed and censored blog (which I have written about before) are works of art in their own right. And as Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore writes in the Independent, “Ai is not only a master of generating self-publicity online but also of the short, sweet quote. At his best he can use Twitter in a way that a Japanese poet might use a haiku: harnessing the compactness of the form to his advantage. ‘During the days in detention, I thought most about the moon,’ posted Ai in 2011. Such pared-down lyricism makes his language a pleasure to read.” After all, this is the land of Confucius and Lao Tzu.
One of the things I value most about Ai’s work is that he doesn’t limit himself to one particular medium. “Everything is art,” Ai says. “Everything is politics.”
Ai lives his art, as seen in Alison Klayman’s recent documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. After Ai is beaten by police for trying to testify for Tan Zuoren, a fellow earthquake investigator, he is diagnosed with a cerebral hemorage and must undergo emergency brain surgery.
Ai photographs his hospital experience and later, he and his assistants methodically go from police station to police station filing complaints about the attack, but getting nowhere. The act of confronting Chinese bureaucracy and injustice directly and documenting the result is the kind of art Franz Kafka could appreciate.
“I want to prove that the system is not working,” argues Ai. “You can’t simply say that the system is not working. You have to work through it.”
Weiwei-isms is organized into six themes: Freedom of Expression; Art and Activism; Government, Power, and Making Moral Choices; Digital World; History, Historical Moment, and the Future; and Personal Reflections. The little black book is a direct snub to the Chinese government and represents everything Mao’s Little Red Book does not: individuality, social change, the basic human right of freedom speech. This is a big burden for a tiny 120-page book to carry, and yet it does the job remarkably well.
The mere act of compiling Ai’s statements into a book that mocks Mao’s legacy is a radical gesture. And I would go so far as to say that the act of purchasing and sharing this book is a small show of support for human rights. Of course, Chinese citizens are the ones who would benefit most from Weiwei-isms, and they will not have easy access to this publication—an injustice we would do well to keep in mind.
In the West we have become indifferent to free speech. We have forgotten that words have the power to change minds and incite action. But totalitarian governments and religious fundamentalists know better. They ban books and censor not because they are crazy or ignorant, but because they comprehend reality: the ability to speak our own truth is the most potent and human act of all.
More complex works might include the classic Zen text titled The Blue Cliff Record, The Oxford Book of Aphorisms, Elias Canetti's The Secret Heart of the Clock, and Baudrillard's interviews titled Paroxysm.
I also think books by women writers including Annie Dillard's On Writing, Ann LaMott's Bird by Bird, and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones are better books, admittedly by professional writers.