Cam on – roll up for a bird’s eye view of Ai Weiwei
At my family’s home up in Yorkshire, we are sitting on the edge of our seats, waiting for the new season of our very own private screening of spring watch to kick off.
We have installed a camera in a bird box, and are waiting for the eight blue tit eggs to hatch. Last year we were hooked. From the moment they hatched until the fledglings flew the nest, it was compulsive round-the-clock viewing and I can’t wait to find out who will be the leader of the pack this year.
A world away in China this week, Ai Weiwei was being watched over too. Cameras in every room in his house, even above his bed, kept a beady eye on the outspoken artist’s every move. What new depth have the authorities sunk to now, you might ask? But this is not a newly invasive monitoring technique from the government – Weiwei did this to himself.
Wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with his own face, and the words MISSING, the defiant dissident set up the camera feed, to mark a year since his disappearance when he was detained by the authorities and held for 81 days – for much of that time without charge or explanation. He beamed the footage out to the world on a dedicated site – weiweicam.com
Weiwei told the Guardian:
"This is a gift to public security because they follow me, tap my phone and do what is necessary to get 'secrets' from me. I don't have secrets. They want to watch me day and night. We have four cameras inside so they can see clearly what I am doing and make sure they are happy with it."
Watch they did, but they weren’t grateful for their “gift”. Indeed, the site has been shut down inside 24 hours of its launch – owing to too much attention from viewers – conversely to most reality TV shows forced off the air.
I think it was a brilliant way to highlight the way that Ai Weiwei was treated last year, to remind people of his unfair detention and to voice his continued defiance. This is a man who simply refuses to kowtow to the authorities' programme of persecution. The run of weiweicam.com may have been brief, but the reverberations are substantial and more than anything he has proved that he can laugh in the face of the absurd treatment he has been subjected to. I suspect we have not seen the end of his antics and I for one intend to stay tuned.
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