Ai Weiwei - hairdresser, rocker, citizen journalist?

The Chinese contemporary artist turns his hand to hairdressing, heavy metal and street-brawl coverage
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Ai Weiwei - self portrait
Ai Weiwei - self portrait

Sometimes, as Jonathan Jones recently observed, Ai Weiwei's prominence as a Chinese dissident seems to overshadow his major talents as an artist. In March it emerged that Ai Weiwei plans to release a rock album with his friend, the singer and guitarist Zuoxiao Zuzhou. The album was inspired by his 81-day incarceration, during which time his prison guards apparently asked him to sing them some songs.

"I felt so sad I couldn't sing any except the revolutionary ones we had to learn when we were growing up," he explained. "After I came out, I realised I had never really listened to music or sung, so I decided to make an album. I know so many artists and musicians and they were really supportive." Indeed Ai has asked Elton John to help advise him with the project.

 

More recently, we came across this video (above), featuring Ai Weiwei's skills as a barber. Ai's followers will know that he's given plenty of haircuts before. However, there's still something beguiling about the footage, shot by local blogger Anthony Tao of the Beijing Cream site. It was filmed a few days ago at the Fodder Factory restaurant in Caochangdi artists village, greater Beijing, and features Ai Weiwei giving Tao a fairly extreme short back and sides, while the renowned Spanish tapas chef José Andrés - widely credited with bringing small plates dining to the US - serves lobster.

Then yesterday (Sunday), Ai Weiwei uploaded this video (below) to YouTube. According to both the Chinese-language captions and accompanying commentary from Reuters and elsewhere, the footage captures a fight between Tibetan street vendors and the Han Chinese security guards of a close-by Beijing restaurant. While the footage doesn't amount to much from either a visual arts or a news perspective, it does illustrate the fractious social environment still inspiring the bulk of Ai Weiwei's public art, at least.

 

Thankfully, he is also also managing to make and exhibit some more challenging new works. One forthcoming piece, going on display at The Para Site gallery in Hong Kong this Thursday, is inspired by the 2008 adulterated baby-milk scandal, which drove huge numbers of parents to buy their baby milk from international manufacturer's stocks on sale in Hong Kong, rather than risk using the domestically produced stock. Ai hasn't disclosed any further details about this sculpture-cum-installation, yet it's reassuring to see that, among all these other wide-ranging practices, he's still finding time to wow gallery-goers.

For more on this forthcoming exhibition, go here; to learn more about the artist, please take a look at our Ai Weiwei book, the first comprehensive monograph on this titan of the Chinese art scene. And if you're curious to learn how that lobster might have tasted, why not try our Book of Tapas, which features over 250 recipes, and is introduced by José Andrés.


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