20 May 2011, 10:30p.m. @ Chinese Consulate in NY:
Cuban artist Geandy Pavon, a self-professed “idolator who suspects images,” has dedicated his Nemesis project “to Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who has been jailed by Chinese authorities.
The performance consisted in [sic] a projection of a video using sunflower oil as a medium that reflects the face of Ai Weiwei on the facade of the Chinese Consulate in New York City” (Pavon). Weiwei, who had been speaking out against the Chinese government, has been under arrest since 3 April. An exhibit of some of his work can be seen @ Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan.
I have seen neither the exhibit nor the projection (despite being a New Yorker—I was in Ann Arbor for CWcon on 20 May), but the video is spectacular, especially the preparatory coating of sunflower seed oil and corresponding distortions in the projected image. I’m particularly taken with the way Weiwei’s face swims into focus: the active spectatorship it asks for, and the oil distortion above his eye, frighteningly reminiscent of a bullet hole.
It seems to me that the projection critiques not only China’s crackdown on dissenters but also concepts like moral distance and compassion fatigue. Weiwei’s face does not exist and simply accuse by existing. Rather, as a dynamic image, it forms as we watch and (perhaps) evokes more pathos than it would if it existed as a static, flat image.
I’m shaky on my Roland Barthes—despite drawing heavily on his vocabulary in my New Narrative IV co-authored presentation on Sri Lankan war photography—but I wonder if Barthes would classify the slow coalescence of the image as punctum, or the quality that disturbs and advenes upon the viewer. Whatever the case, the image is a powerful one.
Ai Weiwei’s twitter feed (via Tumblr), translated into English by an assistant, can be accessed here.
This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.