The artist Ai Weiwei has likened the internet to a modern church, with a community that can rally round and “share your problems”, as he described being inundated with offers of Lego bricks after the Danish toymaker refused to sell him a bulk order.
“The internet is like a modern church. You go and complain to a priest and everybody in the community can share your problems. So some clever people took up the issue and had the idea to fundraise for the Lego,” he said at a press conference on Monday about his plans to create the Lego work for an Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, in December.
After Lego said it would not supply him with the bricks he needed, Ai denounced its stance as “an act of censorship and discrimination” stemming from the political nature of his work. The Chinese artist said he has since been flooded with offers from all over the world and will try to find a way to accept them.
Ai was speaking at the Berlin University of the Arts, where he is to begin a three-year guest professorship he was offered in 2011 while detained for 81 days by the Chinese authorities. Three months after China lifted travel restrictions on him, he said he was thankful for the role but would not use it to encourage his 16 students to follow his path.
“I will not put political or humanitarian concerns in my teaching,” he said. “Those concerns are in me, but I won’t put pressure on my students over those kinds of issues. I think everyone has the right to decide on their own principles.”
However, one of the projects Ai said he was planning to set students would focus on the refugee crisis: “I don’t want to make the students activists for helping refugees, but confront them with this issue so they can better understand the realities and how to integrate them into their artistic works.”
Ai has been granted a three-year visa for Germany. Asked after the press conference what he thought of Berlin’s efforts to help the refugees coming into the country, he said it was a challenge for everybody.
“It’s a difficult situation and we have to think about ourselves and our west civilisation and think about the world. This as a condition is not going to be finished by one effort; it has a long history and is going to last some time.”
He said he did not think of himself as a refugee, his situation being “too good” compared with that of others arriving in the city.
Ai said artists become victims of their media, and he was a “victim of the internet”. Despite that, he said neither his native China nor his adopted home of Germany was where he belonged.
“I think my home is on the internet. Twitter is my home and my nation and I feel very comfortable there. Otherwise, I don’t care that much about material life. Sometimes there are materials lacking, such as I need Lego for my work, but that is fine,” he said.
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