I went to see the pre-season viewing of Art21 because of El Anatsui. I wanted to see him in action. My friend and I sat down in the auditorium, thinking that we’d just see how it went, maybe leave part way through, after the bit on him. Then the film came on, and we were riveted. From start to finish. I’m not going to say too much about it. I don’t want to give too much away. Let me just say that it’s totally worth seeing. In the first episode of season 6 of Art21, “Change,” the artists interviewed are Catherine Opie, El Anatsui, and Ai Weiwei. I’d never heard of Catherine Opie, and I was totally blown away. She’s shown photographing people and landscapes, and the depth with which she talks about her photography is inspiring and fascinating. When the section about her was over, my friend leaned over to me and said, “Do you think she’d be our friend?” Opie is that kind of person. Here’s a glimpse:
Then we move on to African artist El Anatsui, who is from Ghana but has lived and worked in Nigeria since 1975. This is what I’d come to see, but I’d gotten so wrapped up in Catherine Opie, that I wasn’t sure El Anatsui could live up to it. You’ll be relieved to know that he did, of course, although he’s a completely different personality. We get to see his studio, or workshop may be a more appropriate word, and hear in his own words that he’s all about change, which I appreciate. He doesn’t like to give specific directions about how his works should be displayed, so they look different every time. How cool is that?
The section about Ai Weiwei was the shortest, understandably, since interviewing a man on house arrest by the Chinese government is difficult. That’s probably what interested me the most about the bit about him — that in 2011, a government is telling an artist whether or not he can speak to the media, and then what he can and cannot talk. I mean, I know it’s happening all over the world, but to see it in this way, so specifically, was striking.
Season 6 episode 1 of Art21, “Change”, airs on PBS on April 13. You really don’t want to miss it. Oh, and words to live by: “Say what you need to say plainly, then take responsibility for it.” Ai Weiwei