Saturday, July 29, 2017

Breakfast with Ai Weiwei

It was Saturday morning and we headed into town for breakfast. The parking lot at the Topnotch was full to overflowing, so we thought we'd try Buddy's place down by the water, Dockside Willies. We'd breakfast there more often, but they serve those shitty deep-fried frozen potato cubes instead of real fried potatoes.

The Globe and Mail is up to $6.30 now at the Korean's. That's a long way from a "free press" in my world, but what can you do? Read the news on your laptop? I'm not ready for that... yet.

So we settle in at Dockside's at a table with a nice view of the harbour. Aside from my quibble with the potatoes, Buddy has really raised the bar since the place was known as Wiarton Willies. You wouldn't guess that by looking at Buddy and his four by four Ford pickup with the six inch lift. I mean, you can get smoked duck breast in your salad now if you're so inclined!

Anyway, I got to page A8 in my $6.30 paper, and was half way through a story about the great Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei when our food arrived.

The good thing about those potato cubes is that it gives us more leftovers to feed the hounds when we take them to the park on the other side of the bay. It was a beautiful morning and we spent the next hour enjoying the dogs and the water and the sunshine and the boats heading out before we meandered home.

We get back to Falling Downs and I'm keen to get back to Ai Weiwei. After all, he's just won the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship and I want to read the rest of the story. I look for the paper... not on the dash, not on the back seat, not on the floor... I look at the Farm Manager and she looks at me.

"Oh for f@cks sakes!"

Dockside's was filling up fast with the lunch crowd when we left, and our newspaper would be long gone. I drive back to the Korean's and pay $6.30 for the Globe and Mail, for the second time in three hours. Mrs. Korean looks at me like maybe I'm a bit touched in the head.

I had an open mind about Ai Weiwei till he launched his "Straight" exhibit in Toronto in 2013. I wrote a post about it called The hokum of Ai Weiwei.

I don't know from "art" but I do have some experience with rebar, and that entire story about Ai Weiwei and his team laboriously chipping the concrete off 70 miles of rebar salvaged from collapsed school buildings in China was pure unadulterated bullshit.

By 2016, Ai Weiwei, or more probably his management team, had discovered the great European refugee crisis, prompting the artist to create his embarrassing tribute to Aylan Kurdi. Since then he's been keeping busy doing stuff with life-jackets supposedly left behind on the beaches of Lesbos (stuff that would get you or me arrested for trespass and vandalism), stood up to the anti-Semitic bullies of BDS with an exhibition in Jerusalem, and has something coming up in New York City called "Good Fences make Good Neighbours," which is ostensibly about walling/fencing people in/out.

That's obviously a timely issue, what with Trump's Mexican wall and all, but it would have been especially auspicious if he'd found the courage to mount that show in Israel last month, instead of the innocuous schlock on display at the Israel Museum. After all, nobody in today's world has more experience in walling/fencing people in/out than our Israeli friends.

But here's the thing with Ai Weiwei; he's mighty fussy about where he fights for human rights. His critical gaze finds room only for countries that are considered America's adversaries. Don't expect him to dig too deep into the root causes about why Aylan Kurdi and the thousands like him die fleeing their devastated homelands.

Then again, this may not be Ai's doing. Watch this interview he has with Jerry Cohen of the Council for Foreign Relations. (I know! Talk about friends in high places! How many artists get interviewed by the CFR?)

Does he answer the questions? Does he understand the questions? Are the questions even "questions?" It's a pretty gentle question session from what I can see, and his minder Jerry Cohen does a great job keeping things simple.

Shades of Chauncey Gardiner, perhaps?

Anyway, have to say I'm mighty skeptical. Apparently he's got a major film coming out, "Flow," all about refugees. At this very moment Ai Weiwei (or his management team) have no less than twenty film crews on location all over the world.

Maybe his forthcoming film will expose the causal relationship between American foreign policy and refugee flows.

Let's give him a chance.

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