Anyone who has been following the news this year has likely heard of Ai Weiwei. This provocative and gifted Chinese artist-activist has made 2011 headlines for his controversial work Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads and for his recent arrest by Chinese police.
What has been less widely appreciated is Ai’s profound impact and insight as a cultural critic, Internet artist, and chronicler of contemporary events in China. Before it was shut down on 28 May 2009 by Chinese authorities, his blog provided a Chinese-language digest of Ai’s perspectives on topics ranging from the nature of humanity to hair cuts, from his “Fairytale” project to his efforts to compile a list of the children killed in the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, from the contemplation of a “Bullshit Tax” to the 2009 Xinjiang protests. By turns hilarious, touching, and tragic, his online writing offered a perspective on current events in China that was very different from the sort of coverage available in popular Western-language news outlets.
With the support and collaboration of Ai himself, Lee Ambrozy has collected, edited, and translated a selection of the artist’s written and photographic blog posts and tweets in Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009 (MIT Press, 2011). Spanning the period from the founding of Ai’s blog in 2006 to his final posts in 2009, Lee’s translation is a treasure-box that not only offers a glimpse into the life and work of this transformative artist, but also speaks to the nature and power of internet culture in today’s China. We spoke for an hour about her experience creating the volume, the challenges and joys of the translator’s practice, and the story of the Grass Mud Horse, among many other things. It is an inspiring volume, and well worth a read.