Political Awareness and Birth of Chinese Avant-garde

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Tiananmen Crisis
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You can't sleep on your pillow and dream a rich guy's dream.

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<p>On June 4th, (1989), I found out about it on CNN, I watched CNN 24 hours a day. Actually before June 4th, there was a long prelude of events. I knew students were on hunger strikes. At that time, I started to have some contact with my family in Beijing. I asked them what the conditions were and they very excitedly told me that students occupied the Square, and that there were hunger strikes and so on.<br /> <br /> <em>

[Interviewer: So a few year before that you probably didn't have the interest, wouldn't have called your family...]

</em> <br /> <br /> That&rsquo;s right, I had no interest. The reason I came back (in the 90s) was to see my father. He was dying, and I was staying at home, like a child. But I stayed at home also because really I had nothing to do. In '93, China was still pretty repressive. Basically, after '89, after the crackdown on students<br /> <br /> China was under severe ideological control. So the whole society developed very slowly. There wasn't much to do, so at the time, I made the Black Book and the White Book, and the Grey Book. <br /> <br /> <em>[Interviewer: And right then, the post '89, avant-garde art movement was happening in East Village Beijing. How did you see them then? You just came back from New York, and see these (activities) in Beijing. Because artists like Zhang Huan are very different compared to those in the 80s who were very serious about protests.]

</em><br /> <br /> First, you could see that they were very young, secondly, you could see that they were no longer interested in painting and drawing. They would ask, so, how does America, or New York, look at Chinese artists? How would Chinese artists survive and develop in the West?&nbsp;Actually, I couldn't even survive and develop there. That's why I came back. But I understood them. So basically I discussed with them mostly about how they could express the situation of their existence in China. <br /> <br /> <em>[Interviewer: Yes, you told me that once you told Zhang Huang not to mimic the West, but should instead try to express the immediate environment that was surrounding him.]
</em><br /> <br /> Yes yes. I told him that he can&rsquo;t do that. The environment in East Village Beijing was really abject, very bad. I remember we went to a public bathroom, it was very dirty, and I told him,&nbsp;&quot;You can't be thinking about America's situation from here. You can't sleep on your pillow and dream a rich guy's dream. It's impossible. You should wholeheartedly respect the your current living situation. And your current living situation is something that Western artists do not have. It's one of your advantages.&rdquo;</p>
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Artist Ai Weiwei speaks about how he became more politically aware and how that changed the advise he gave to fellow artists when they look at their own lives as a source for inspiration.