Last night, in a ceremony at MoMA, Marina Abramovic presented the Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei — who was absent, of course — with WSJ. magazine’s first Innovator of the Year Award in the category of art. Here is the speech she gave:
So I was thinking how am I going to do this? I could see I wanted to say what he said, that somehow his words are speaking through us. First of all, I’d like to show you a picture. [Opens her jacket to reveal a t-shirt with a missing poster for Ai Weiwei, stamped “found” at the bottom.] A few days ago I went to visit in a studio of Julian Schnabel and I said to him that I am going to accept this award and he said to me I have this t-shirt — the same t-shirt that I am wearing tonight — and he told me this story of how he made this. He was in Venice and walking the streets and he saw some pieces of the poster of Ai Weiwei just lying on the floor. He took them and made his t-shirt and this was even before he was in prison and was missing. Now let’s see what Ai Weiwei is saying.
Susan Sontag said, and I think it’s really important to start with her because she’s such a free thinker, and she said, “The truth is always something that is told, not something that is known.” There are no writings or speaking that will not be truths about anything. And that’s what Ai Weiwei knew so well. That’s why the goal is so important to him. He said, “The goal provided me with the all the right tools and the space to take full advantage of my expressive potential.” He said, “Say what you need to say and then take responsibility for it, or speak when you get the chance. Don’t waste your limited space saying something meaningless.” Then he said, “I think that every person must do something for others. This is the only way this world will see any change. I think restrictions are essential conditions in the fight from freedom for expression.”
I really relate to him so much because, you know, coming from ex-Yugoslavia, in our country, we had to ask three years in advance to the government to make spontaneous demonstrations. I mean, three years in advance for spontaneous demonstrations. You know, it was for the political job — you can go up to four years in prison. If two people are talking on the street, this is a dialogue. If three people are on the street, this is a protest. So, he said, which is an interesting distinction to make here, he said, “There’s so many things that are wrong with our society no matter if you are a musician or an artist or writer. I believe there’s no such thing as the best circumstances and therefore I say that we all have our complaints but this cannot become your excuse. The desert grows its own kind of grass and tropical plants only grow in the rainforest. So discussing our circumstances and complaining about them is pointless. Any environment is still your environment and everyone is his own or her own unique situation, people who cannot adapt to different circumstances should be left on their own devices.”
“What I’m saying is,” he said, “if one metal proves useless, create another. If you are not equipped with the practility, you are a loser and you deserve your fate. People who believe they are standing in the worst of places truly have a problem because, actually, everyone is standing on equal ground.” So to the government, the Chinese, he said, “Reject cynicism, reject corporation, reject fear, and reject tea drinking. There is nothing to discuss. It’s the same old same. Don’t come looking for me again. I will not cooperate. If you must come, bring your instruments of torture with you.”
So Ai Weiwei is the model of an artist, he’s the artist of the future, using technology to invent a different innovating way of communication in a time of restrictions and limitations. This is why I’d like to conclude with his own words: “I spent most of my effort liberating myself from being an artist to become a real human being.”