Ai Weiwei’s graphic memoir Zodiac is a mystical memory tour

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BERLIN – With the Year of the Dragon, Ai Weiwei has released Zodiac, a “graphic memoir” of scenes from his career – both real (hanging with Allen Ginsberg, the OG of Beat poets, in 1980s Greenwich Village) and imagined (debating Mr Xi Jinping, China’s paramount leader).

Each chapter frames the Chinese artist’s take on traditional beliefs about the characteristics humans share with the 12 animals of the Chinese lunar calendar.

Italian cartoonist Gianluca Costantini’s intricate line drawings pair with Italian art curator Elettra Stamboulis’ comic-bubble text to help expand Ai’s lifelong campaign for free expression to a new medium for a new generation.

Ai, 66, spoke about home, parents and parenting, and the passage of time, all via video chat from Berlin, Germany.

A zodiac cycle ago, in 2012, “Twitter is my city”, you said. Now you live in Berlin; Cambridge, England; and Portugal. Where’s your city today?

Twitter was my city because it was the only place for my expression at that time. Since 2015, when I left China, conditions have changed. I was under such pressure in China. Suddenly, I came to the so-called free world, and Twitter was not so important. It was just one of the tools.

I consider nowhere home. Not China and not outside China. It is strange. I just came back from New York. I consider none of these cities home.

Home means you close your eyes and imagine the street and recognise a few names you grew up with. None of these places have this.

In Zodiac, you teach your son, Ai Lao, the legend of the Jade Emperor creating the calendar. What did you learn by explaining time?

Some say time is only an illusion. The illusion can be painful or it can be happy. Some live in the past and some struggle in the present. Someone may have no future.

It is hard to explain what time is about. The new generation needs some kind of reference when we talk about time. I can talk about the years I lived in Xinjiang or the time my father was dying, so I moved ...

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