Sharing with you the opening of an academic paper I wrote for my philosophy-heavy architecture course. I joined notions of time from Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, the disembodied poetics of The Beats, with a dash of Foucault and Kundera to whip up my thesis titled, “Multiplicity and the Disembodied Poetics of Ai Weiwei.”
Five black and white “arresting” images depict a Chinese model being strong-armed, handcuffed, taken away, interrogated, and stripped naked under government custody. The images, though heady in content and context, impart a delicate beauty. The violence is staged, muted, restrained and controlled. This is, after all, the pages of W Magazine, a fashion editorial deftly titled “Enforced Disappearance,” developed in collaboration with the artist Ai Weiwei. It is his first work of art since being released from government custody having spent 81 days in a Beijing jail. He is still under surveillance and not permitted to leave his Beijing home. Imploring his media savvy, Weiwei used Skype to direct the W team from his home in what The New York Times described as “his disembodied self, open on the laptop.”
“Enforced Disappearance” is a poetic re-enactment of Weiwei’s own time in jail. It is also informed stylistically from his past. In the early 80s, Weiwei studied art in New York and took snapshots of everyday street life. That collection of images is titled “New York Photographs 1983-1993.” The “Disappearance” editorial draws inspiration from a series of Weiwei images depicting the Tompkins Square Riots of ‘88, a punk revolution against gentrification of the Lower East Side. According to Tate Etc, Weiwei’s witness to those American riots “…helped instill an unwavering belief in individual freedom and social justice.” With this editorial and the means in which it was created, Weiwei employs the multiplications of time and place, new technologies, global experiences, and negation of nations. He says “The conflicts between individuals and authorities—be they economic, cultural, political, or religious. I am using my personal experience to address a condition. “ His disembodied approach culls from many movements and ideologies. The editorial then becomes “a hyper novel with many beginnings” and with many meanings through time.