Last night I had the privilege of seeing Adrian Clarkson give Ai Weiwei her award for Global Citizenship for 2017. I sat in the front row, spitting distance from both of them, and was totally entranced by the hour-long conversation that followed as Clarkson asked Ai Weiwei about his life and art. Clarkson was impressive: informed, articulate, sharp, intelligent, warm, filled with compassion and wearing an outfit that Grayson Perry would kill for. The fact that she’s 78 made me love her more. Ai Weiwei was passionate (with no apparent anger) and steadfastly uncompromising in his criticism of the Chinese government’s treatment of its own people. He talked about his latest project, a film called Human Flow. In order to make the movie Ai Weiwei spent 18 months visiting 20 countries to record the plight of refugees worldwide. Next month his art piece Good Fences Make Good Neighbours will be installed in New York: 300 works based on themes of immigration, division and borders, in locations across the city. Last night Ai Weiwei chuckled as he described the golden cage that would be erected near Trump Tower.
Both Clarkson and Ai Weiwei left me humbled and inspired, but inspired to what? Taking on the injustice of a repressive super-power, the plight of people so terrified that they abandon everything and walk, and the damage caused by arbitrary divisions and persecution in the name of capitalism isn’t easy, but it is obvious. And out of my league. I want my art, writing, teaching and own life to provoke thought, perhaps change minds, but my focuses are smaller, more subtle. And so easier to forget and take less seriously. What Ai Weiwei reminded me is that I have to put as much energy and effort into my work as he does into his. Which feels like a big challenge.