The Making of Enforced Disappearance
The making of "Enforced Disappearance" an exclusive collaboration with artist Ai Weiwei photographed by Max Vadukul. Written and narrated by W's arts and culture editor Diane Solway.
Released on 11/4/2011
|Starring:||Ai Weiwei and Max Vadukul|
It's not every day that a magazine acts
as studio assistant to one of the world's most
influential artists, but one night this past August,
W editors were on New York's notorious island jail,
Riker's Island, as a Chinese model stood naked
in the shower.
Half a world away, the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei
was watching from his studio in Beijing.
In a historic collaboration, Ai Weiwei was directing
the artwork he conceived for W's Art issue via Skype.
We had set up a laptop inside the shower at Riker's
so that Ai could watch the scene unfold from
his home studio in Beijing, where he is now
under house arrest.
Does it feel like something you identify with?
[Ai] Yes, it's quite real, actually.
The work we were creating is called
It depicts the arrest and detention of a woman
by undercover police.
This is Ai's first major work since being released
in June from his 81-day detention by Chinese authorities.
Given that he is under round-the-clock surveillance
in Beijing, and banned by the Chinese government
from discussing his detainment, using the Internet
or even leaving the city, we were never entirely sure
how long we would be able to communicate with him.
Which is why we decided to shoot the entire portfolio
in one long night.
To give us an idea of the documentary style snap quality
he wanted to create, I sent images he had taken
during the Tomkin Square riots in New York in 1988.
His touchstone for the work was not only those
he took of the riots, but other scenes of arrest
The portfolio, he said, shows an anonymous person
in London, Beijing, an Arab nation, or elsewhere.
The individual can be charged or not charged at all,
with no clear explanation.
I am using my personal experience to address the condition.
It was thrilling and surreal to have him present
as we made the work.
Photographer Max Vadukel literally acted
as an extension of him.
[Max] Is there a table in this situation,
with a light on it? Or there is no table?
[Ai] It depends on from what angle you're seeing
if you see from the interrogator's perspective
you'll want a table.
It was exhilarating to see Ai's familiar face
floating on the screen.
Though we had to work quickly because we knew
that at any moment we might be cut off.
[Max] One, two, and three.
Beautiful. Once more.
Apart from the incredible restrictions
he has been facing, it made sense to do it by Skype,
given that Ai is well-known for integrating technology
into his daily life and art.
For him, technology and social media are a kind of
performance art in which we are all participants.
One of the strangest parts of the shoot came
when we shifted locations to Chinatown in Queens.
There were a lot of people in the street,
so we put a hood over the laptop to prevent
Ai from being recognized.
Putting a hood on the laptop had a stinging irony to it,
since one of the images that Ai outlined included
a hood being placed over the person under arrest.
For the cover, the model was dressed in Alexander Wang,
and being pulled off the street by two undercover
W Editor-In-Chief Stefano Tonchi worked with the model
and Vadukel to choreograph the movement.
I saw our cover and magazine as another medium
to get his work out to the public in a new way.
[Ai] I like the composition very much, I like
the lighting very much, it seems very much close to
the reality so it's a very strong piece in any circumstance.