See the artist behind Beijing's Bird's Nest flip Chinese authorities the bird.
DIRECTED BY ALISON KLAYMAN (USA, China, Special Presentations)
Though he was commissioned to serve as a design consultant on Beijing’s showpiece Bird’s Nest stadium, activist-artist Ai Weiwei has spent much of his career flipping Chinese authorities the bird—often literally. A cheekily extended middle figure is a favoured gesture of the charismatic, big-bellied Ai, who has become a prominent thorn in the side of China’s ruling regime, particularly in the wake of 2008’s Sichuan earthquake. Dismayed at the government’s failure to release official child casualty figures, Ai began his own initiative to tally the tragic losses, enlisting aid through social media, and ultimately producing Remembering, a commemorative Berlin art installation comprised of thousands of children’s backpacks.
Alison Klayman’s excellent documentary follows Ai between 2009 and 2011, capturing his beating at the hands of Chengdu police—which prevented him from testifying at the trial of another earthquake activist—and his subsequent, new media–driven campaign to draw attention to official corruption and bureaucratic opacity. Klayman also touches on the paternal origins of Ai’s politics and his formative years as a New York art student, as well as his preparations for 2010’s Sunflower Seeds at London’s Tate Modern.
Never Sorry draws to a close with Ai’s much-publicized arrest and three-month detention for “economic crimes,” widely interpreted as a thinly veiled governmental gagging order. In light of his previous outspoken irreverence, the sight of Ai’s post-arrest reticence casts a slight chill over Never Sorry‘s conclusion, but recent developments offer an encouraging indication that the artist’s defiant streak hasn’t been unduly curbed.