I’ve just read a book by Guardian journalist Barnaby Martin about Ai Weiwei and his recent imprisonment. Ai has been mentioned on this blog before, and he is important for the position I’m trying to develop. He has to be admired, but more compelling to me were accounts of the experiences of two writers, Liao Yiwu and Mang Ke. Martin’s description of their living conditions is both horrifying and inspiring—inspiring for the courageous realism they are able to sustain. All of these people put a premium on direct, forthright, sincere outspokenness, and their topic is always things as they are. In their context,
straight description is challenge enough, and intolerable enough to the authorities. Aestheticism is not their mode, but, as I pointed out a couple of years ago, for Ai there is no hard distinction between art as politics and art as art. It turns out that his models, beside the expected Duchamp and Warhol, include Morandi, of all people. Meanwhile,
even though there is no danger of going to jail for speaking one’s mind, it is just as difficult in this comfortable bourgeois society, and needs to be as grounded in a clear perception of reality. Abstraction is an ethics of the real, including human realities, it’s not restricted to the phenomena.