Ai Weiwei finds peace in Portugal: ‘I could throw away all my art and not feel much’

With the studio PORTILAME is building for the Chinese artist as a backdrop, an interesting conversation took place between Ai Weiwei and The Guardian.

“As he eases into farmhouse life, the artist is preparing for an epic design show that will feature 200,000 spouts from broken teapots and jugs. He talks about Chinese might, western jealousy – and his urge to spend

It is a warm, clear spring morning and Ai Weiwei is giving me a tour of the huge new studio he is building about an hour’s drive from Lisbon. There is not another house in sight, just the flat green landscape of the Alentejo, and a big blue sky dotted with darting swallows. The studio, explains the artist, is a replica of his old one in Shanghai, which was finished in 2011 only to be almost immediately demolished by the Chinese authorities: officially, because it contravened planning regulations; unofficially, because of Ai’s outspoken criticism of the government. Months later, the artist was imprisoned for three months then placed under house arrest. When his passport was returned in 2015, he left the country and has not returned since.

“We live in a constantly changing landscape,” says Ai. His has certainly changed more than most people’s. After China, he set up in Berlin but left under a cloud, saying: “Nazism perfectly exists in German daily life today.” He moved on to the UK, where he has had run-ins with immigration authorities. On his first visit, he was initially granted a visa for just 20 days on account of his “criminal conviction” in China.

He still likes Britain, though. His 13-year-old son is at school in Cambridge and Ai visits often. “Britain is like a jacket with many pockets,” he says. “It has a lot. It’s vibrating. But I’m too old for that.” Ai is 65. “When you walk on the street in London, you feel you’re a little bit in the way of the young people. I needed a place to be more peaceful by myself.” He likes the food, weather and people here in Portugal, he says, as we drink tea on the verandah of the farmhouse next to the site of his studio, with a view of his swimming pool and the countryside beyond. Numerous cats and dogs bask and lope around; birds squawk in a nearby cage.

The studio’s jointed timber structure draws on traditional Chinese architecture. It is not an easy job: no nails, no glue and every piece of wood different. “I realised I needed to build something to create enough problems for me to make contact with local construction workers,” he says. Planning permission wasn’t easy either, but he likened the studio to an agricultural warehouse. With a conspiratorial smile, he explains: “When they asked me what I was going to put in it, I said, ‘Sunflower seeds.’”

Although visibly wealthy (his house has a grand piano for his son to practice on visits), he says he cares little about possessions. “I have a habit of spending all the money I have. Because I have a theory: you are as rich as you can spend, not as much as you have.” The same applies to his art: “I could throw away all the so-called artwork I’ve done. I won’t feel much. These things coexist with our life, but our life is very short.”

Full article in The Guardian

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