The concept of a human being, of a person, of mind and body, of belief and memory and imagination, of feelings and emotions and good and evil, are not normally considered to be theoretical concepts. They are not concepts we can abandon after the manner of the luminous ether, or phlogiston. They are used all the time, in our lives, atheoritically. The availability of these concepts gives shape to our subjective experience. Through using them, we are able to form articulate expression. The concepts we choose to regard as atheoretical makes us what we are.
Weiwei takes the atheoritical objects of our physical reality –the equivalent of these most basic philosophical concepts –and he does things to disturb us at a profound level. He says that although we think these objects are atheoritical, they are not. The reality we have treated for ourselves is contingent –it does not have to be this way. I is arbitrary. There is no inevitability to human society and culture. It is, at one level, absurd. The ordinary things that we fill our lives with –the shoes, the chairs, the tables –are the incarnations of a particular way of thinking and seeing, a way of thinking that just happens, for the time being, to be ascendant. Marcel Duchamp caused people to ask ‘What Iis Art?’ Ali Weiwei causes people to ask ‘What is reality?’ And just as with his blogs, where for eight hours a day he would add his words to the endless stream of the internet, so too with his art he heaves his strange new creations into the ever broadening river of reality, hoping that by doing so he will alter its course and change its volume and depth.
After his only New York show in 1988, his work dried up. He moved many times and every time he moved he dumped what little work he produced. But he didn’t stop thinking of himself as an artist. The abiding lesson he took from Duchamp was that being an artist was above living as an artist, rather than producing some product, some work of art for a gallery, or even for himself.