Friday, November 4, 2011


Delvoye risks “trouble” with offer to Ai Weiwei
Chinese artist’s assistants warn of reprisals if he accepts invitation to rebuild wrecked Shanghai studio in Ghent

By Cristina Ruiz. From News, Issue 229, November 2011
Published online: 03 November 2011

The artist Wim Delvoye has invited Ai Weiwei to recreate in Belgium the Shanghai studio that was demolished by the Chinese authorities in January.

Delvoye is planning a sculpture park in the grounds of a manor house outside Ghent, and says he would like Ai to rebuild the studio there. The Belgian artist bought the house and the 50 acres of land surrounding it three years ago. Ai visited shortly afterwards.

“Weiwei is very, very impressed [by the house] and I’m actually offering it to him. He has first choice to make work for the place or even live there. I gave him carte blanche,” Delvoye says.

According to Delvoye, Ai was planning to design a guest house for the sculpture park when he was arrested in China in April.

“While he was [detained], I was talking to his family,” Delvoye says. “Instead of doing a guest house, I suggested [rebuilding] the studio that they broke down in Shanghai. Weiwei has kept all the pieces. He was planning to do an installation with them, but [rebuilding the studio] would be a very mythological work and also a very autobiographical one.”

Ai, who is an architect and designer as well as an artist, had been building the studio for two years. He intended to use it as an education centre and a site for artists in residence.

Recreating the studio in Belgium would be an act of defiance and Delvoye says Ai’s assistants have warned him of the consequences. “They say that if I build it, I will have trouble in China… they are advising me not to do it.”

Delvoye has visited China numerous times and ran a farm there, where he tattooed pigs with the brands of luxury labels and other designs, until 2008. He describes himself as a “great admirer” of many aspects of Chinese culture.

“If I am ambitious as an artist and I want to build something in China, I can’t [pick a] fight with any government,” Delvoye says. The artist is already in advanced talks with the Indonesian-Chinese collector Budi Tek, who wants him to build a wedding chapel big enough to hold 100 people for a new museum the collector is building in Shanghai.

If Ai accepted Delvoye’s invitation to recreate the Shanghai studio, would Delvoye go ahead, despite the ramifications? “Of course,” Delvoye says. Ai’s studio declined to comment.

Potential trouble in China is not the only problem Delvoye faces as he struggles to turn his dream of a sculpture park into reality. For the past three years, he has been waiting for the necessary permits to use the grounds of the house for contemporary art.

All land use in Flanders is under review to determine which sites must be used for agriculture, industry or other purposes. Until the federal review is completed, Delvoye’s proposals cannot be approved. The wait has been frustrating, but he has already started to place some works in the grounds of the property.

Delvoye has installed 20 of his newest works—twisted bronze crucifixes that wind their way around sapling trunks—in a small wood. As the trees grow, their bark should surround the sculptures, obscuring them from view.

The artist hopes to install all of the large-scale works he has produced and not sold. These include a large, lattice metalwork truck made ten years ago, which will be seen in a Delvoye retrospective at Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (10 December-2 April 2012). But when the work is not on display, it is in storage.

“Each time the truck is not shown, it’s like a financial punishment. It’s like another tax I pay on the fact that I haven’t been commercial enough. I need to find a solution,” Delvoye says.

He hopes the sculpture park will be the solution. “It will be the ‘graveyard’ of all the unsold ideas, the impossible ideas and the ideas others wouldn’t execute or commission.”

Other artists will be invited to make work for the park. Delvoye is in talks with Oleg Kulik, the Russian artist. “He wanted to install a sheet of glass in the park,” Delvoye says, but the idea was vetoed because the glass “would have killed all the birds”.

“It’s amazing,” Delvoye says. “I am myself censored but now I have censored a work myself.”

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