Trigger Warning: blood, self-harm
Ai Weiwei's exhibit "According to What?" was on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto last fall. Having seen Weiwei's autobiographical documentary the year before and being inspired by it to always carry a camera, I decided to go see it.
The day of my visit, I'm walking through the park bordering the AGO, and I notice an older, extremely well-dressed man using finger paints to make lots and lots of hand-printed turkey paintings ... you know what I mean, those things everyone made in kindergarten because we couldn't hold paint brushes. I stopped and watched for a bit as he made more and dried them under a tree. Having painted lots and taken paint-making classes, something seemed a bit off about the way his turkeys were drying, as if the paint was an unusually viscous material I've yet to encounter. Being downtown Toronto, I shrugged it off and kept going. Near the edge of the park, I encountered 3 obviously undercover cops: their suits didn't fit, they had ear pieces, and were trying to conceal themselves behind a bench while recording the man make turkey paintings. There was a police office in uniform behind them also watching the artist.
When I got to the AGO, I explained all this to my friend and we decided to go let the artist know he was being watched. We walked back past the extremely awkward undercover cops (who avoided our stares) to the artist. Here's (roughly) what happened:
Friend: Hello there.
Friend: What are you making?
Artist: I am a political artist. I tried to stage an exhibit earlier in the AGO protesting that they never exhibit the work or local or truely revolutionary artists, but they kicked me out.
Friend: What is your art like?
Artist: Right now, they are showing that Ai Weiwei exhibit from China. China is clearly a country where they take political artists seriously, not like Canada where everyone is apathetic about everything. I have written my manifesto addressed to the Chinese government (he hands us copies, covered in that strange paint from before) asking for asylum, because Canada is an apathetic country where artists are not taken seriously. I took it to the AGO, and began reading it out loud. I intended on distributing signed copies, but they kicked me out. There are a bunch of cops over there trying to secretly film me.
Me: What are all your paintings for?
Artist: Ah, I had intended on signing the copies of my manifesto in my blood, but forgot my pen. Instead, I've just been dipping my hands in bowls of blood and making hand prints on the backs of them.
I recoiled and felt my insides begin to warp. Then I noticed the deep cuts along his arms and blood splatter everywhere. How did I not see it before: those aren't bowls of paint, they're bowls of blood. I dropped the sheet in my hand, grabbed my stomach, and weakly said, "That's very interesting."
My friend, who is not squeamish at all, was intrigued by this and kept up the conversation with the artist. I remember none of it, only gripping my sides wanting to run away. All those turkeys were bloody handprints. I still can't get over it. I will never fingerpaint again.