Sat, Aug 11, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Olympic artist lashes out over PRC propaganda

The man behind the bird's nest stadium has dissociated himself from the Games amid a simmering human rights row

By Jonathan Watts  /  THE GUARDIAN , BEIJING

The Chinese artist behind Beijing's spectacular new Olympic stadium has said he wants nothing to do with the propaganda for which it will be used during next year's games.

In an attack on the "disgusting" political conditions in the one-party state, Ai Weiwei (艾未未) said he would not attend the opening ceremony a year from now, or allow himself to be associated with either the government or the games.

"I would rather be disconnected or forgotten," said Ai, one of China's most prominent figures in the arts.

He conceived the stadium's steel-lattice design -- nicknamed the bird's nest -- with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron.

"I hate the kind of feeling stirred up by promotion or propaganda ... It's the kind of sentiment when you don't stick to the facts, but try to make up something, to mislead people away from a true discussion. It is not good for anyone."

He accused those choreographing the opening ceremony on Aug. 8 next year -- including filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Zhang Yimou (張藝謀) -- of failing to live up to their responsibility as artists.

"All the shitty directors in the world are involved. It's disgusting," Ai said. "I don't like anyone who shamelessly abuses their profession, who makes no moral judgment. It is mindless."

Recently, a Spielberg spokesman hinted the director might relinquish his Olympic role unless China dropped its opposition at the UN to an increased Darfur peacekeeping force; four days later, a deal on the force was announced in New York.

Although Ai's work, too, will be used as the stage for the Olympics' opening ceremony, he has no regrets.

"The joy of design is already there. The rest is rubbish," he said. "I was not hired by the state but by a design team in Switzerland. No one in the state here would ever hire me for a project like this."

With a family history of persecution by the communist government, Ai's involvement with the Olympic project raised eyebrows from the start. The artist spent much of his childhood in remote Xinjiang after his father, Ai Qing (艾青), one of China's greatest modern poets, was exiled.

Such persecution, along with political murders, corruption and rampant land theft, remain taboo subjects in China. Ai is one of only a few prominent people living in Beijing to speak out.

"I very openly criticize the tendency to use culture for the purpose of propaganda, to dismiss the true function of art and the intellect," he said.

Ai's contemporary, Zhang -- whose family also had troubled times under the communists -- has been criticized at various points in his career by both the authorities and their opponents.

As for Spielberg, when he announced in April last year that he had been hired as a consultant on the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics, he said his overriding goal was "to give the world a taste of peace, friendship and understanding."

In recent months he has elaborated on his motives, after being criticized in the US for his involvement with Beijing when the government there stands accused of aiding Sudan's regime, despite the latter's promoting a genocide in Darfur.

In May, Spielberg set out his moral position on that issue when he published the text of a private letter he had sent to Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). The director spoke of his pride in the work of the Shoah Foundation Institute which he founded to record the testimonies of survivors of the Holocaust, and the value he saw in the Beijing Olympics as an event promoting "respect for universal moral principles."

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