Republicans and grad students may never come to a consensus on what art actually is, but hopefully everyone can agree on what it is not: a platform for reinforcing what you already believe. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has taken this maxim to a logical but alarming end, deliberately provoking his own government with his artwork and outright challenges to its authority. Unique among revolutionaries, however, Weiwei is as notable for his technical craft as for his righteous anger and, first and foremost, his love of China and its people. As Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry makes clear, it is this last quality that defines him as an activist and artist.
Weiwei first came to an international significance with the design and construction of the Bird's Nest, a massive structure completed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Significance quickly morphed into notoriety, as he renounced his involvement with the games and spoke out publicly against the government. Such public displays of defiance are exceedingly rare in China, so Weiwei immediately become a target: too volatile to be ignored, but too public to be eliminated completely. Since then, Weiwei has made the most of his status as a public figure, taking on bolder and more ambitious projects, as well as harsher jabs at his government.
It would be easy for a man like Weiwei to use his notoriety to criticize his government from a distance, safe from any punitive measures, but he has done quite the opposite. As Never Sorry documents (plainly and objectively, but always with a certain awe of the man), Weiwei has stayed active and involved in his own country, particularly during the Szechuan earthquake, when the government refused to release an official list of deceased, so Weiwei took it upon himself to create and publish his own list. It's a quality that makes his artwork (like the massive "sunflower seeds", composed of 100 million artificial seeds) that much more meaningful, and his voice that much more worth hearing.
There's a film-maker commentary, some deleted scenes, some interviews, and a trailer.
"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" is on sale December 4, 2012 and is rated R. Documentary. Directed by Alison Klayman. Starring Ai Weiwei.