Ai Weiwei starts as Berlin lecturer, sharing time with China

AP News
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Posted: Oct 26, 2015 8:53 AM
Ai Weiwei starts as Berlin lecturer, sharing time with China

BERLIN (AP) — Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is embarking on a three-year guest lecturer job at a Berlin university, declaring that he will include a project on refugees in his teaching but he doesn't plan explicitly to address human rights.

Ai, who was detained in China in 2011 and released after 81 days in jail, is starting the guest professorship at Berlin's University of the Arts more than four years after he was named to the post and three months after Chinese authorities finally returned his passport.

"I will still go back and forth under the condition that they still let me in and out, which is also not in my control," Ai, who already has made a return trip to China since getting his passport back, said at a news conference on Monday.

Ai said he chose 16 students for his course in Berlin, whittling down his selection in part by weeding out applicants who told him that art was an end in itself or that they wanted to know and benefit from the secret of his success. "I'm not encouraging any students to be like me," he said.

Ai plans to combine various artistic disciplines in his teaching, and said one project will have to do with refugees — an issue on which he has praised Germany's response. He added, though, that "the time focus won't be on today, because if we look back a bit we see that refugees are a part of human history."

Still, he said that he won't put political or human rights concerns into his teaching "because I'm teaching in an art school."

"Of course, those (things) are in me but ... I will not put a pressure on them on this kind of issues," he said.

Ai's appearance in Berlin came amid controversy over an exhibition due to open in Melbourne in December, "Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei," which is to feature 20 portraits of Australian pro-freedom figures made from Lego bricks.

Ai said in a Friday post on Instagram that Lego refused a bulk order from the National Gallery of Victoria, saying in an email that it is against corporate policy to "indicate our approval of any unaffiliated activities" outside a licensing program. The artist accused the company of censorship and discrimination.

"I was pretty gobsmacked," Ai said Monday. "It was a perfectly respectable order."

"Someone then had the idea of calling for donations of Lego bricks," he said. "And it appears that we will now actually get enough Lego bricks together in order to be able to conduct this project as originally planned."

Lego said in an emailed response to a query about the matter that "we respect any individuals' right to free creative expression, and we do not censor, prohibit or ban creative use of Lego bricks by any individual."

However, it added that it refrains worldwide "from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of Lego bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda." That doesn't prevent anyone from purchasing Lego bricks through normal sales channels — which isn't possible for bulk orders — or otherwise getting hold of bricks, it said.