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

Credits

Starring: Ai Weiwei and Max Vadukul

Transcript

00:20
It's not every day that a magazine acts
00:22
as studio assistant to one of the world's most
00:24
influential artists, but one night this past August,
00:28
W editors were on New York's notorious island jail,
00:31
Riker's Island, as a Chinese model stood naked
00:34
in the shower.
00:36
Half a world away, the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei
00:39
was watching from his studio in Beijing.
00:41
In a historic collaboration, Ai Weiwei was directing
00:45
the artwork he conceived for W's Art issue via Skype.
00:49
We had set up a laptop inside the shower at Riker's
00:53
so that Ai could watch the scene unfold from
00:55
his home studio in Beijing, where he is now
00:57
under house arrest.
00:59
Does it feel like something you identify with?
01:02
[Ai] Yes, it's quite real, actually.
01:08
The work we were creating is called
01:11
enforced disappearance.
01:12
It depicts the arrest and detention of a woman
01:14
by undercover police.
01:16
This is Ai's first major work since being released
01:18
in June from his 81-day detention by Chinese authorities.
01:21
Given that he is under round-the-clock surveillance
01:24
in Beijing, and banned by the Chinese government
01:27
from discussing his detainment, using the Internet
01:30
or even leaving the city, we were never entirely sure
01:33
how long we would be able to communicate with him.
01:35
Which is why we decided to shoot the entire portfolio
01:38
in one long night.
01:40
To give us an idea of the documentary style snap quality
01:43
he wanted to create, I sent images he had taken
01:46
during the Tomkin Square riots in New York in 1988.
01:50
His touchstone for the work was not only those
01:53
he took of the riots, but other scenes of arrest
01:55
he's witnessed.
01:57
The portfolio, he said, shows an anonymous person
01:59
in London, Beijing, an Arab nation, or elsewhere.
02:02
The individual can be charged or not charged at all,
02:05
with no clear explanation.
02:08
I am using my personal experience to address the condition.
02:11
It was thrilling and surreal to have him present
02:14
as we made the work.
02:15
Photographer Max Vadukel literally acted
02:17
as an extension of him.
02:19
[Max] Is there a table in this situation,
02:21
with a light on it? Or there is no table?
02:27
[Ai] It depends on from what angle you're seeing
02:30
if you see from the interrogator's perspective
02:33
you'll want a table.
02:37
It was exhilarating to see Ai's familiar face
02:39
floating on the screen.
02:40
Though we had to work quickly because we knew
02:43
that at any moment we might be cut off.
02:46
[Max] One, two, and three.
02:48
Beautiful. Once more.
02:50
Apart from the incredible restrictions
02:51
he has been facing, it made sense to do it by Skype,
02:54
given that Ai is well-known for integrating technology
02:57
into his daily life and art.
03:00
For him, technology and social media are a kind of
03:02
performance art in which we are all participants.
03:07
One of the strangest parts of the shoot came
03:09
when we shifted locations to Chinatown in Queens.
03:12
There were a lot of people in the street,
03:14
so we put a hood over the laptop to prevent
03:16
Ai from being recognized.
03:18
Putting a hood on the laptop had a stinging irony to it,
03:21
since one of the images that Ai outlined included
03:24
a hood being placed over the person under arrest.
03:27
For the cover, the model was dressed in Alexander Wang,
03:30
and being pulled off the street by two undercover
03:33
police women.
03:34
W Editor-In-Chief Stefano Tonchi worked with the model
03:37
and Vadukel to choreograph the movement.
03:40
I saw our cover and magazine as another medium
03:42
to get his work out to the public in a new way.
03:47
[Ai] I like the composition very much, I like
03:49
the lighting very much, it seems very much close to
03:52
the reality so it's a very strong piece in any circumstance.