On June 22nd, the Chinese state media reported that the contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei had been released. Updates throughout the day offered conflicting reports of his reappearance, but it now seems certain that he has indeed been released conditionally. A great relief for the artist’s friends, family and those who stood in solidarity with Ai Weiwei, his release from prison is a cause for reflection and celebration.
For nearly three months, Ai Weiwei has been detained in an undisclosed location by authorities. Under the auspices of economic crimes relating to taxes owed by the company that owns his studio (to which his name is not legally attached), his detention inspired international condemnation from the artistic and human rights community. Ai Weiwei was most certainly incarcerated as punishment for his outspoken and overtly critical voice on the international stage.
On June 23rd, Sean Martindale will be unveiling his new sculptural installation at Whippersnapper Gallery titled Love The Future / Free Ai Weiwei. The work is inspired by the artist’s unjustified detention in concert with a global movement of solidarity to free the artist. More broadly, Marindale’s piece is meant to shed light on the consequences that face artists and political dissidents globally.
Martindale’s artistic practice is closely connected to the politics of public space and as a result his work is constantly subject to –and within the parameters of – the overarching politics of how we regulate freedoms of expression, mobility, association and so on, in public space.
As the exhibition progresses over the course of the next month, Martindale will be presenting accumulated and ongoing press clippings as a public document of Weiwei’s detention as seen through the lens of the international media. This chronicling of the ordeal will help to extend the conversation beyond Weiwei’s detention and subsequent release towards the fundamental criticisms and concerns that are thrust into the spotlight whenever a public figure faces persecution for their beliefs.
Ultimately, Love The Future / Free Ai Weiwei uses the spotlight focused on Ai Weiwei to call attention to the plight of those who suffer injustices in response to their actions and expressions of conscience. Weiwei is a poignant symbol, but by no means does his release represent the conclusion or satiation of these criticisms. Through his exploration of the Weiwei’s detainment, Martindale makes a bold statement while asking Toronto audiences to consider the space –both physical and political – that they reside within.