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Culture

Berlin guest professorship for artist Ai Weiwei remains open

Berlin's University of the Arts hopes to see Ai Weiwei among the ranks of its professors soon. The university's president stresses that its teaching offer was in the works long before Ai Weiwei was arrested in China.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei

Conceptual artist Ai Weiwei has been unaccounted for since his April 3 arrest

When asked about his university's offer of a guest professorship to renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Martin Rennert squirmed a bit. Of course, the offer should be seen as a gesture of support for the artist who was imprisoned by Chinese authorities in early April, said Rennert, president of Berlin's University of the Arts.

"It would be impossible to view Ai Weiwei apart from the current situation," said Rennert, who nevertheless sees the current political dimension of the offer as somewhat uncomfortable.

"It's very important to me to make clear that we started this process four months ago and not just two and a half weeks ago," he continued. "We're not out to appoint a dissident per se but rather an outstanding artist."

'Outstanding artistic figure'

artist Olafur Eliasson

Fellow artist Olafur Eliasson praised Ai Weiwei for his critical approach

Ai Weiwei's forthright criticisms of the political situation in his home country have helped make him the most famous Chinese artist in Germany. The artist has long had good contacts in Berlin.

Prior to his April 3 arrest in Beijing, Ai Weiwei had planned to rent various venues in Berlin to serve as studios, which the local art scene took as a sign of approval for the German capital's creative community.

"It's a nod to an outstanding artistic figure that has also been very important in Berlin," said Jürgen Zöllner, Berlin's education minister.

The professorship would be financed by the city's Einstein Foundation, which Zöllner also chairs.

The University of the Arts would like Ai Weiwei to teach in the graduate school, where he would work together with Icelandic installation artist Olafur Eliasson, who has been a professor at the same institution since 2008.

"It would be important to have Ai Weiwei here because his critical method of making art would enrich all of us," said Eliasson, who has known Ai Weiwei for some time.

"He's not only critical toward China, but generally so. Personally, it would be very inspiring to work with him because he has shown me how I see everything through my own very Eurocentric perspective," Eliasson added.

Little information about the artist

Berlin's University of the Arts

Berlin's University of the Arts still hopes to welcome Ai Weiwei

In previous contact with the university, Ai Weiwei has given positive signals that he would accept a professorship.

By way of his Hong Kong office, university officials have tried to contact his wife in the hopes of letting the artist himself know about the offer. Ai Weiwei's assistants have received word of the chair, but even they are not in contact with the artist and are unsure whether he has received the message.

Much about Ai Weiwei's fate remains uncertain at the moment, including where he's being held, what charges he faces and what the consequences could be should he have to appear in court.

Nevertheless, University of the Arts President Martin Rennert hopes that he'll be able to accept the position as soon as possible.

"The professorship remains open and will be held for him," Rennert commented.

Chinese authorities have been notified of the university's offer but have not responded.

Author: Mathias Bölinger / gsw
Editor: Kate Bowen

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