Ai Weiwei's floral bike protest

Why is the Chinese artist and dissident leaving bouquets in a bicycle basket outside his compound every day?
Flowers in Ai's bicycle basket
Flowers in Ai's bicycle basket

Some works by the great Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, are a little oblique. Take the video where he removes a screw from a bus, for example. Others are geographically remote, given the artist's travel ban, which has been in place since 2011.

So it’s great to see an on-going, easy-to-appreciate project of Ai's that's only a click away. As the artist tells the New York Times, he has been leaving a bouquet of flowers in a bicycle's basket outside his Beijing home on a daily basis since 30 November, and he says he will continue to do so until the authorities return his passport. He photographs the flowers, and posts these images on his Flickr account.

Ai says that he was led to believe that his passport would be returned a year after his release from prison in 2011. However, the authorities have yet to give the document back. “Today is the 1,001st day since I lost my passport,” he tells the paper. “I don’t know how long it will go on for. Another 1,000 days? Thousands more days? It’s all possible.”


Flowers in Ai's bicycle basket
Flowers in Ai's bicycle basket

Intriguingly, the bicycle locked outside his compound isn't an anonymous cycle, but a bike that was once owned by a German based in Beijing, who worked for an art shipping company. “He was arrested, but never officially. They detained him for I think more than 10 months,” Ai explains. He adds, “The government accused him of smuggling, but the real reason was that officials wanted to open a tax-free art zone and take over his business.”

This unnamed German expatriate is back in his home country now, while his bike has been worked into the artist’s practice. Ai places flowers in the basket, he says, because “flowers are the most common language. For one thing, they’re about life. And I use fresh flowers. New ones every day.”


Flowers in Ai's bicycle basket
Flowers in Ai's bicycle basket

He also explains that these daily deposits are a more vivid reminder of the restrictions. “I say we can’t just count the numbers,” he tells the paper, “we have to remember every fresh life. I can buy a bunch of fresh flowers every day to remind everyone that loss of freedom happens, that it’s a possibility, and that it happens amid all our lives.”

While we think it’s a work that anyone can appreciate, we hope it’s one he doesn't have to keep up forever. To see the flowers, go here. For a greater understanding of Ai's work, buy our monograph, the first published on this important artist. For more insight into how his work fits into the wider sweep of Chinese art, take a look at our Chinese Art Book.

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