The film examines this complex intersection of artistic practice and social activism as seen through the life and art of China's preeminent contemporary artist. From ...
Rating: R for some language
Length: 90 minutes
Released: July 27, 2012 NY/LA
Cast: Changwei Gu, Ai Weiwei, Evan Osnos, Huang Hung, Ying Gao
Director: Alison Klayman
Last summer the art of Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei was featured in a Knoxville Museum of Art exhibit, "Dropping the Urn."
The exhibit included some of Ai's signature pieces — a giant pile of sunflower seeds and ancient Chinese urns and vessels painted with the Coca-Cola logo or dipped into brightly colored paint.
At the time, Ai was out of sight in China, detained in a secret location by the Chinese government for months.
Now, Knoxvillians can find out more about the artist whose art they may have seen at the KMA in the documentary "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry."
The 91-minute film, a project of journalist and director Alisonj Klayman, opens today at Downtown West in Knoxville.
Ai is known as much for his stance as a political dissident as he is for his creations as a contemporary artist. And "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" details as much or more of his role as the first as it does his work as the latter.
The film is an inside look at Ai's personal and professional life. It shows the man who loves New York City corned beef as a complicated individual, not just an artistic or political icon. The film begins with shots of several of Ai's 40 cats and numerous dogs playing or walking about his property. The film also includes interviews with Ai's brother, mother and wife. He's also shown with his girlfriend and their young son.
The documentary details Ai's preparation for upcoming art exhibitions, showing him creating ideas and having his assistants implement them. But as the film continues, its growing focus is on Ai's activism and his tense relationship with Chinese police and authorities. At one point in the film, Ai tweets where he'll be having a sidewalk dinner at a cafe. Soon he attracts a crowd of admirers and police. Sitting down to have dinner with the artist activist in a public place becomes an act of Chinese defiance. But the action also had a comical side. As police film a dining Ai, the artist's videographer walks up to the policeman's side and begins to film him. That's another point the film makes — Ai's use of social media as a way to get his views out both across China as well as outside its boundaries.
One part of "Never Sorry" shows Ai's work to document how many schoolchildren died in a May 2008 Sichuan earthquake. While government authorities tell him the number is secret, he and others begin to track down the names of more than 5,000 children who died. He eventually published the names of his blog. That's one of his actions that get Ai into deeper and deeper trouble with the Chinese authorities. "Never Sorry" also documents — with a black screen in which only words are heard — the artist being beaten after police enter his hotel room. The end of the film tells of Ai's 2011 detention and shows a clearly shaken artist regretfully refusing interviews after he is released.
Thorough it all, the documentary doesn't forget to show the art that has made Ai an international name. "Never Sorry" is a portrait of an artist but more than a portrayal of his art.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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