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Ai Weiwei Says Chinese Authorities Demolished His Beijing Studio Without Warning

The dissident artist has posted a series of videos on Instagram documenting diggers demolishing his studio in the Songzhuang district

Courtesy: Instagram; Ai Weiwei

Courtesy: Instagram; Ai Weiwei

Courtesy: Instagram; Ai Weiwei

The dissident artist Ai Weiwei has said that Chinese authorities razed one of his Beijing studios without permission. In a series of videos on Instagram, Ai documented a digger demolishing a factory building. ‘Today, without any notice, my ‘Zuoyou’ studio was suddenly forcibly demolished, ’ the artist wrote. ‘Farewell.’

Ai told frieze that the demolished studio was located in Beijing’s Songzhuang District, on the outskirts of the city – and was not, as some had suggested, Ai’s iconic studio in the city’s Caochangdi neighbourhood, built in 1999. The rental contract on the Songzhuang studio had apparently already expired. But it had not been possible to transfer artworks stored in the studio quickly enough. ‘They came and started knocking down the windows today without telling us beforehand. There’s still so much stuff inside,’ Ga Rang, an assistant of the artist, told AFP.

It is not clear what the reasons for the destruction of the building were. ‘Nobody knows the real reason for the demolition. The same holds true for everything in Chinese society. Nobody knows the real reason or what is behind those arguments put forth by the state,’ Ai told frieze. ‘What you have been told and what appears in front of your eyes can never be clearly explained. That’s the character of an authoritarian society,’ he said. ‘The power of this kind of society comes from placing the individual in a vulnerable psychological condition. They can do anything to you. You are the one that has to bear the consequences. That’s quite powerful.’

The artist added: ‘Anything that happens in this kind of society – one which violates freedom of speech and basic human rights – is political. It can be political without argument. It can be political without an attitude or even any awareness of being political.’ This isn’t the first time that Ai’s studios have been demolished by the government. Seven years ago, his Shanghai studio was razed, with authorities citing ‘illegal’ construction. The artist maintains that the Shanghai demolition was politically motivated, and that the authorities were ‘frustrated’ by his socially-engaged documentary work. The artist was detained for nearly 3 months in 2011, and remained under close surveillance until 2015, when his passport was returned to him, and he moved to Berlin.

A number of Beijing galleries have recently been marked for demolition. In July, several galleries in the Caochangdi art district, including X Gallery and de Sarthe, were graffitied with the ‘chai’ character – a common marker of impending demolition. Heiqiao and the Iowa Co-Op – significant artist settlements in the city – were both razed last year. When asked about the spate of recent demolitions, Ai told frieze: ‘I have criticized this morally bankrupt gentrification, which has grabbed the land from the people to give to powerful developers [...] Under the argument of making some rich first, the state has retaken the land from the people to make it profitable for ruthless developers, who are connected to the party.’

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