MAP office: Ai Weiwei Explores MAP office

In a long and laborious explanation to Weiwei, we continued with the latest developement in the project. First, the construction of a "Hong Kong Island" made of oyster shells in the courtyard of the Hong Kong Pavilion. This island will be inhabited by talking parrots and humidified with misters. Then, in addition to this built territory, a fragment of the island will be moved to the China Pavilion in Venice. This "Personal Island" will present a one square meter monument to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong's retrocession. The statement is summarized by the motto "MAP office is in China".

MAP:   A major concern for this project is to define strategies of representation in a local context, assuming that at this end we do not belong to any country or system. We believe that artists should be provocative and raise questions (like the parrots) instead of providing answers.

AWW:   You are the provocateurs! The work you are putting together does not belong to any country or system. This work is like a person or a sentence, or whatever happens to a misfit, to something uncategorizable. This has a very special value, this "misfit" quality. I don't want to know more about it, except to understand that what you are doing is different. It is very personal. You have your own sensibility and a personal power to achieve things according to your own reasons, your way, which includes your life and family. You always do things together; take photos, record video, write, draw and other things. At the end, your work always completely refreshes my eyes and my mind.

MAP:   It is true that we are often misfits, but we look at it from a positive perspective. At least it brings a different point of view.

AWW:   What you are doing does not happen everyday. Today, 99% of artists want to join the army and try to follow the rules. Your big advantage is that you are not coming from an artistic background. But your work enters the arts field _ with all those representations and concepts, drawings and installations. What brings you there? Everything seems to be so natural...

MAP:   What we are doing is research. And, there are many ways to do research. We are both academics but cannot follow the academic framework, because in our field it leads nowhere. Also writing is not enough, photography cannot be alone, video is sometimes too realistic, so we recently started to draw what we see and understand. Fictions, games, drawings and animations became our way to infiltrate and plan a new reality.

AWW:   The two of you have your own world. At this moment this one is mainly focusing on China. Your China can be any fragment of China _ a brick, the Pearl River Delta, Beijing or villages. You put your hands on anything in front of your eyes or in your mind, and add a very personal imprint on it. But how does this work exactly? You are not working like artists traditionally work. You start research with an ongoing conversation between the two of you?

MAP:   This is a life/work project. In the morning, we send the kids to school and start to walk the fields. In the evening, once the kids are in bed, we like to go swimming together. Swimming, talking and being in the water _ far from the field, the books or computers _ helps us to understand how to operate and hit the point.

AWW:   Generally, your work is very dangerous. It is very seductive, like the "Hide & Seek" project. This is not just a game... It is so important to communicate every basic human activity. This is a meaningful metaphor. You see it but you don't see it. You know it is there, something, somewhere, but you don't see it. But that is exactly what happened to the world. The world has changed, but how? In the end, the world only changes the way we look at your works. Through art today the world is changing. If you use the old language, the old way to describe it, it will never change.

MAP:   That's the main reason for us to be here and expose ourselves through this discussion. This project originated from Hong Kong, extended to China, and as the road became increasingly longer, we started to bring a lot of ourselves in this work. Who are we representing now and does it really matter?

AWW:   Your work contains many fragments. As it is fragmented, it contains a lot of information, an accumulation of knowledge, which also serves purposes other than the intention of a single work of art. Now the meaning of your work shows a great ability to respond to what is happening today. Then, through your various responses you create a very different landscape.

MAP:   We carry our reference as well as our own location. When you talk about the road, does that mean process? In today's system it seems to us that the result, and somehow the surface, are given more credit. Art is definitely not produced as an idea put into a shape.

AWW:   The road is mainly a passage across something. The process is a way to approach things and it can also be a road. I take a pen and draw something. That is also a process, a certain way of making something. How do we express ourselves and according to what? That's also a road. Now you abandon the old language, to use a very personal, essential, clear, immediate language that anybody can understand. It is a character of many of your works.

MAP:   On that road, we can sometimes be tourists or travelers. We like to think that we belong to nowhere. Some people even see us as ghosts in the way we infiltrate very controlled places. Like tourists, we enjoy crossing new territories, except that in our case we produce our own map and guide.

AWW:   Tourists or travelers, in your case means that you don't belong to where you are. You are always foreigners. You are always going to a new condition or event, or to a new site. Then you develop your condition as a tourist and communicate this condition to other viewers. So you create this kind of educational work, and forecast new developments, with each of these drawings leading us to understand the next site or the next event. So in that sense you are tourists but also users.

MAP:   In this context everyone is empowered to critique the system. That is why we bring up the story of the parrot in Venice. The parrot is the one asking the wrong questions. The parrot is speaking for us, saying what we cannot say because of the rigidity of the frame. The parrot is beautiful and insolent, stupid and educated at the same time. So, our recomposed island will only be inhabited by these paradoxical creatures.

AWW:   To introduce a new element such as the parrot is a kind of wisdom to question our own logic. We definitely learn from the parrots. Human logic should not be the only one to develop new ideas. We see so many people expressing strong beliefs, but we also know that many times these beliefs are momentary. So to bring another rational like the parrotÕs _ one we barely understand _ shows a perfect moment, a beautiful moment of harmony. And this will shake us up. You are always approaching or reinterpreting things with doubts and questions about what seems obvious or very normal. I am not talking about tactic _ but attitude that always keeps you ready and with a fresh mind.

MAP:   In our practice, we come up with this logic that none of our projects are ever finished. We develop something up to a point, then stop for a while to communicate the results, then develop further. It is never truly achieved nor perfect. For example, part of our installation is to bring a fragment of Hong Kong to the China pavilion. In the letter we gave to the curators, we presented this action as a commemoration of Hong Kong's retrocession to China ten years ago. Obviously, our intention goes far beyond this simple fact.

AWW:   Your work has a strong reading of territories and bring questions such as "whose land?" and the position/physical condition of places. The actual weight and size of your request is a minimum gesture, but the political meaning of it is big. It is a very personal intention but it directly reaches into our oldest human struggle. When it regards property and territory we become very human, and today it is still the same struggle everywhere. If we talk about space then we talk about species and this is one of the limits on the human mind. Your proposal directly relates to that question and this is disturbing.

MAP:   In a way you apply the same logic by bringing 1001 Chinese lives to Kassel.

AWW:   Yes, our work is very different but we walk in the same direction. We are so called Chinese, German, Communists, Capitalists, third world country, developed country, conservatives or not - so what happens when you mix it up? We can progress only when we will physically remove all those barriers. Even with something as simple as traveling together to Germany, tremendous problems are created. And the main problem is that our human intelligence cannot handle it, because we are not peaceful.

MAP:   We see the oyster in this way - as a powerful element with which to learn about Hong Kong. It is a food product related to sex. Its shell is a minimum habitat, multiplied by millions to create a unique landscape that changed the climate and narrowed the distance to China. We share the same exploration through different fields - art, criticism, architecture, curating and now design.

AWW:   Do we need obstacles to slow our ideas? Once we know the game, it is not interesting anymore. This is also a response to the fast mutation around us. Every five months a new product comes on the market and refreshes our mind, upgrading our condition. In the 60s, Warhol used to say that we will all have a moment of fame for a few minutes. Today we do not need to be famous. Now what counts is our ability to change. How can we adapt to new conditions, and while doing so, provide new conditions for others to adjust to.

MAP:   Then at the end of the day what is the most important for us: a brick, an oyster, a book or a suitcase?

AWW:   What you propose is a multiple choice that reassembles nature, intelligence and reality. Somehow I would think that the one I have is not the important one, but the one I don't have is. Of course it then depends which one I already have. But this is a very good metaphor. It reflects a good understanding on how to grasp reality, even a small piece of reality, and fabricate your identity. It obliges us to take a certain position. I guess the suitcase is the least important. But the oyster, the brick and the book are all testimonies to our being.

MAP office
Beijing, 23rd February 2007


MAP Office is an open platform conceived by Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix to reform our daily practice and to reconstruct our life-world. Based in Hong Kong, MAP Office has participated in several local and international exhibitions, including the 7th Architecture Venice Biennale, the 1st International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam, the 2nd Guangzhou Triennial, and Zones of Contact - 2006 Biennale of Sydney. They have published many books and essays on urban phenomena in Hong Kong and China.


Hong Kong Arts Development Council
STAR FAIRY by the Curator