Earlier this morning, we posted a video of Cuban artist Geandy (pronounced jee-ahndy) Pavon projecting Ai Weiwei’s portrait onto the street side of the New York City Chinese Consulate, a guerrilla protest for the detained artist. In this exclusive Q+A, Pavon explains how he did it, what the reaction has been to his work and his future plans for the Ai Weiwei project.
The following is from a phone conversation I had this afternoon with the artist about his Friday May 20 projection, entitled “Nemesis Ai Weiwei: The Elusiveness of Being”. For more information about Geandy Pavon and his work, check the artist’s website.
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Kyle Chayka: What inspired you to do the “Nemesis Ai Weiwei” performance?
Geandy Pavon: Lately I have been working with politics through art, and I did it because I identified myself with the situation of Ai Weiwei. I come from a totalitarian regime [Cuba] and I had to leave my country because of my political views. I didn’t go to jail, but I was forced to leave my country. So in a sense, I’m also a victim of the force imposed on society by a dictatorship.
I think it’s the right thing to do, and I love [Ai’s] work. I think he’s a great artist.
KC: Why did you choose the Chinese Consulate?
GP: I think they built that wall just for projecting, it’s perfect. It’s an ugly building, but it’s perfect for a project like this. For some time I wanted to do something about Ai Weiwei’s arrest. I started studying … I also checked out the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC, and I was willing to travel to do it, but I think this was the right place. New York is the capital of the world, and the building is perfect.
KC: What was the gear set up for the projection?
GP: I used an Optoma 4000 Lumen projector … It’s a relatively powerful projector. It worked perfectly since that area is not that illuminated. The streetlights can’t reach that high up on the wall.
The Nemesis portraits, I’ll do it with different liquids. The liquid I used for Ai Weiwei’s portrait was sunflower seed oil. So what I did was I made a movie of Ai Weiwei’s face reflected on the oil, then I filmed that and projected it on top of the wall. The technology is very simple, a laptop hooked up to the projector.
Of course I can not depend on anybody else for the power, so what I did was to install a transformer to a car battery. It resembles the graffiti artist: you need all the intrigue and you need to hide, keep everything a secret so no one can tell the Chinese authorities or the police here.
KC: What was the reaction like on the site while you were projecting?
GP: Some of the drivers passing by on the street, there’s a traffic light right in front of the consulate. When people stopped at the light, they stopped to look at the projected image, and then the people behind them got upset because the light was green and they still weren’t moving … There haven’t really been any negative reactions.
KC: Have you ran into any legal trouble doing these projections?
GP: I can’t ask for a permit for the projection, if I do then everyone will know. I never call the press or anything because I like to send the information and press release after, because otherwise it leaks, and they’ll be ready for it. In this case, [police or the Chinese Consulate] could illuminate the building and kill the project.
The police, if you don’t have a permit, they’ll just tell you to move. But I’ve never had any trouble with the police. The New York City police are generally very nice.
KC: Are you planning any other projections of Ai Weiwei?
GP: I haven’t thought about it yet, but I’d love to coordinate. If there are going to be any other protests in the city, I’d like to contribute to that.
KC: Anything else you’d like to talk about with the project?
GP: The only negative reaction I received was from a fellow countryman. He said something like, well, [Ai] was a communist. He was a privilege of the Chinese government, he was the artist of the court, and now I’m not worried about him. He’s a victim now, but he was taking advantage of his position.
What I said was we had our problem with the Orlando Zapata case [a Cuban political prisoner]. Nobody knew who he was. Everyone knows who Ai Weiwei is. Zapata became famous and known because he gave his life after 83 days in a hunger strike. In that sense he’s not like Ai Weiwei. But on the other hand, Ai Weiwei is a victim of the same system as Zapata. When I projected Ai weiwei’s face, I projected all the people who have suffered, who have gone through the same thing. I think a victim is always a mirror of other victims.
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See the video of Geandy Pavon’s “Nemesis Ai Weiwei: The Elusiveness of Being” below.