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Ai Weiwei on refugees, craft and blackjack 8 MIN, 17 SEC

A detail from Ai Weiwei’s “Life Cycle” (2018). Courtesy the artist and Marciano Art Foundation. Photo credit: Joshua White/JWPictures.com

Angelenos have been overdue for a big show by the famed dissident Chinese artist and activist.

Now he has exhibits in three venues in LA: Marciano Art Foundation, Jeffrey Deitch gallery in Hollywood and at UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills.

DnA met him at Marciano Art Foundation, at the opening of “Life Cycle,” a new work that responds to a topic he is deeply concerned with: exile from one’s native land.

And we learned about how architecture, craft -- and blackjack -- shape his thinking.

In his lifetime, Ai Weiwei tells DnA, “I've been through all kinds of political persecution and I have to be a refugee myself.”

Last year Ai Weiwei, now living in Berlin, released the documentary “Human Flow.” The two-hour film tracks chains of people fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Kurdistan and trying to enter countries like Greece, Germany and Jordan.

“Life Cycle” explores the same themes, in a tableau made up of sculptures of woven bamboo, set up in a room that was once a stage for Masonic plays.

At its heart is a giant refugee boat in which sit passengers, some with animal heads. Over it hang winged creatures drawn from Chinese mythology made of bamboo and white silk.

And hanging on the walls are more bamboo shapes, that hint at past works and preoccupations of the artist: bicycles, upraised middle fingers, coffee grinders and even a model of the Tatlin Tower. For Ai Weiwei, the building by Russian Futurist Vladimir Tatlin represents utopia.

This installation sits at the end of Marciano Art Foundation’s cavernous main room, which contains two of his earlier artworks: a squared off field of millions of porcelain sunflower seeds, handmade by around 1,600 artisans; and another large rectangle made of tens of thousands of ancient ceramic teapot spouts.

Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, 2010 (detail). Courtesy the artist and Marciano Art Foundation. Photo credit: Joshua White/JWPictures.com.

“I love craftsmanship,” says Ai Weiwei. “It's a print of our human mind. Through craft you see the mind and hand working together, or how it doesn't work together.”

The two exhibits are a juxtaposition: the vast, low lit room with its minimalist carpets of seeds and teapots and at the end, bathed in light and compressed into a tight space, the complex “Life Cycle” installation.

“The stage is very dense, very full of information and very compacted,” says Ai Weiwei, who is fascinated by the manipulation of space. “So you create two conditions. It talks to each other. In Chinese we always say you make a painting, the dense area should be so dense you can not even breathe, but the vast open area, the wind can blow in.”

Ai Weiwei, Spouts, 2015 (detail). Courtesy the artist and Marciano Art Foundation. Photo credit: Joshua White/JWPictures.com.

Thinking architecturally is in Ai Weiwei’s blood, he says, shaped by his childhood during Mao’s cultural revolution when his father, a poet, was arrested and the family was sent to a labor camp in a remote province and lived in a cavern underground.

“Basically you have to build everything yourself. So you see how hand materials can work together and to create something which is functional and to have clear meaning,” he said.

Ai Weiwei’s “Life Cycle” is an homage to traditional Chinese craft -- and the plight of refugees. So what is he expecting from his viewers? That they’ll enjoy it solely as an artwork? Or see it as a call to action?

Installation view of Ai Weiwei: Life Cycle, September 28, 2018–March 3, 2019, at the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles. Courtesy the artist and Marciano Art Foundation. Photo credit: Joshua White/JWPictures.com.

“I never really think my work can really influence people that much, except to fulfill my own demanding on the quality,” he said. “But I think the refugee issue is an issue we always have to talk about. We have to help the people who are unfortunate. This is absolutely not a mercy but a responsibility.”

Ai Weiwei has been a refugee several times - first with his family and later in life, when he lived in New York for a decade, and now, as a resident of Berlin. Just after his work was shipped to the US, the Chinese government demolished his Beijing studio.

Though he’s been embraced by the art world, with comparisons to Warhol, Picasso and Duchamp, Ai doesn’t consider himself part of any art circles.

“I don't go to openings. I don't even go to my own gallery,” he said. “I try to focus on my work.”

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Ai Weiwei with DnA producer Avishay Artsy and host Frances Anderton. Photo credit: Ai Weiwei.

He does enjoy going to casinos, though. He’s a blackjack champion, and says that after just a few days in Los Angeles he’s already visited three casinos. “I'm not seeking money, I'm not desperate like in the 80s,” he says, but at the casinos, “I have a moment of concentration... You don't think about interviews, you don't think about museum shows… you’re really so focused on the game... those chances you know the chances are so, so fair. Because you cannot really control it... But of course you know those chances are designed. You just don't want to think about it. But that's why I'm interested in games.”

The woven bamboo forms of “Life Cycle” bring to mind another work of his: the woven steel Beijing National Stadium, or Birds Nest, designed with the architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron for the 2008 Summer Olympics. So would he consider collaborating on a building here in LA?

“I'd love to. Why not? It's a place for new things to happen and people are so open and you have such attitude here, it's amazing… You don't see this kind of attitude existing in many so-called established societies, which is dull, you know, before you ask a question you already know the answer, which I hate.”

Ai Weiwei, artist (@aiww)

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei lands in L.A. with 3 new exhibitions — but one work nearly didn't make the journey
Review: 'Ai Weiwei: Life Cycle' brings tradition and transformation to the Marciano Art Foundation
Ai Weiwei's Beijing studio razed by Chinese authorities

Can social infrastructure repair a broken society? 9 MIN, 1 SEC

Eric Klinenberg at the KCRW music library. Photo by Avishay Artsy.

When sociologist and writer Eric Klinenberg heard the Brett Kavanaugh Senate hearing last Thursday, right before he gave a talk at Scripps College about civil society, he felt “we’d reached the nadir of our civilization, in some way.”

It also confirmed his belief that “no matter where you stand politically... we know that this is not sustainable,” he told DnA. “If we are to have any collective project in this country... we have to find some way to rebuild... And that means talking about the kinds of places we want to build. And that's precisely where social infrastructure comes in for me.”

Klinenberg has written a new book called “Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life.”

The impetus for his book was his involvement in the ‘Rebuild by Design’ competition that was launched after Hurricane Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey.

This rendering of New York City’s Dryline shows a landscaped berm that turns a seawall into green public space. Photo credit: BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group)

In working with architects like Bjarke Ingels he learned how resilient infrastructure like flood control systems can also serve as multipurpose, gathering places -- a berm that becomes a park, for example, or, in Los Angeles, a revitalized LA River that serves not only as flood control but also open space.

This supported his belief in the need for what he calls “social infrastructure,” not bridges or dams or sewage system, but a “set of physical places and organizations. . . like churches or the YMCA” that enable us to “interact with people around us… and over time something like community cohesion emerges.”

His book makes the case that communities with strong “social infrastructure” can survive stressful events while those with enfeebled social systems -- closed libraries, ill-maintained parks, cracked sidewalks -- are less equipped to do so.

Commercial social spaces like bars, beauty salons, diners, have a role to play but only if they are open and tolerant, he argues.

A rendering for Facebook's "Willow Campus" development in Menlo Park, California.

And what about those who don’t attend church or the synagogue and have chosen to find community online?

“Relationships that start for us on social media don’t get really satisfying unless are consummated in a face to face interaction of some kind,” Klinenberg says, adding the campuses for Facebook, Google and Apple “are organized from the beginning to be brilliant social infrastructures. . , I know that the more time I spend with just me and my phone -- even if I'm conversing with others -- the less satisfied I am, the more I thirst for the face to face.”

Eric Klinenberg, New York University (@EricKlinenberg)

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Goat yoga and selfie museums: how to sell luxury homes now 11 MIN, 2 SEC

Alexander Ali, founder of The Society Group, at The Enchanted Woods.

It used to take freshly made coffee and cookies and a ‘For Sale’ listing to market a house.

But if you are selling a home to high rollers, you’re going to need far more than that.

That’s according to Alexander Ali. He’s founder of a PR and marketing company called “The Society Group,” a member of a group described by Forbes as the “millennials marketing homes like Hollywood movies.”

“We choose to connect influencers and leverage influencers for our social campaigns and our PR campaigns,” says Ali, who came to LA from Portland to try acting and now applies his “love of arts and theater to real estate.”

DnA met Ali while researching two huge new houses, The One in Bel Air and The New Castle in Malibu, for our series “This is Home in LA.”

Alexander Ali, left, and developer Nile Niami at The Enchanted Woods.

Ali created the buzz for both. The developers Nile Niami at The One, and Scott Gillen in Malibu, are among his main clients.

Other accounts include Sundance Ranch in Malibu, “the Palazetto in Italy which was a 16th century mansion that we've decided to auction off for Bitcoin. . . and currently the Endless Summer penthouse in Santa Monica.”

Alexander Ali and his sister Adria Ali pose in the “Bitcoin bathtub” at The Enchanted Woods

The Endless Summer Insta-Penthouse will be a Mad Men-themed party that’s taking place Saturday in a 1963 building designed by A. Quincy Jones. The penthouse is now owned by celebrity dermatologist Howard Murad. He’s the one who preaches the skincare philosophy of “Cellular Water.”

The party builds on a previous campaign Ali worked on called The Enchanted Woods.

To generate interest in a $15 million house built by ANR Signature Collection, “we took the entire home and we turned it into an Instagram Museum, with rooms like a pillow fight room, a golden tub you got in and had a Scrooge McDuck moment, an LED dance floor on the roof and even a marijuana room with real marijuana that you could smoke at the open house, because it was legal. And the New York Times came and they profiled that, and that really set the trend.”

Alexander Ali, left, and DnA producer Avishay Artsy at The New Castle in Malibu. Photo by Frances Anderton.

 DnA wanted to learn more about this trend in real estate in Los Angeles. What is the point of getting thousands of people to chatter about a house that most of them can’t afford? And does it help sell houses?

Ali has the answers.

View from the penthouse of an A. Quincy Jones designed building in Santa Monica that will be transformed into The Endless Summer Insta-Penthouse party.

He talks about the thinking behind his provocative video for Opus, featuring gold-painted girls writhing around the sleek Modernist home -- “we wanted it to be like David Lynch meets Beyonce” -- why it does not matter if the house doesn’t sell; and he teases his next blockbuster house-marketing event, which may or may not feature goat yoga.  

“I want to give people an experience that even if they don't buy the house they remember that night. . . and that's why I get up in the morning. So even if it's goat yoga, as long as it makes people happy.”

Alexander Ali, publicist and founder/CEO of The Society Group

This real estate marketing guru knows to get mega-rich mansions sold
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Opus: The Making Of A Sexy $100 Million Beverly Hills Mansion
This $1 Billion Beverly Hills Estate Is Los Angeles' Most Expensive Ever
Interested in attending the Endless Summer Insta-Penthouse party? DM Alexander Ali for an invite:

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