In Brief

Ai Weiwei Is Documenting the Amazon Fires for a New Project

The artist announced at Art Basel that he will be using footage of the fires for a documentary, as well as in an opera he’s directing next year.

Fires in Brazil documented by NASA’s Aqua satellite in mid-August 2019 (image via NASA/Flickr)

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei announced a new documentary at Art Basel Miami Beach, where he has several pieces on display, the Art Newspaper reports. With one film already in the works on animals and the environment, Ai sent a camera team to the Brazilian states of Rondônia, Mato Grosso, and Amazonas to capture footage of the ongoing fires in the Amazon Rainforest, along with another team which went to Pará to shoot cattle farms. This footage will be used for a separate documentary on the fires, as well as in next year’s production of Turandot at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, which Ai is directing.

Agribusiness and the deforestation of the Amazon are inextricably linked issues. Ai said in his announcement: “We can clearly see that the fires are a part of a wide-ranging and premeditated plan to cause deforestation to increase land use for agriculture and cattle farming.” He also sees a link between the subject and his own well-worn interest in critiquing elements of modern Chinese government and society: “Through our research, we discovered that China has a great interest [agriculture and cattle farming] … During a recent visit to China, the newly elected president of Brazil highly praised China and green-lit Chinese investment in Brazil.”

Ai Weiwei creates flag to mark the 70th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights (photo by Camilla Greenwell)
Ai Weiwei (photo by Camilla Greenwell)

While a less-covered part of his practice, Ai has been making documentaries for as long as he’s been an artist, with many of his films available to watch on his YouTube channel. His 2017 feature Human Flow, which looked at different facets of the global refugee crisis, was his most high-profile effort to date. It remains to be seen whether these new film projects will be similar features, installations, or shorts. Whatever the case, his message is clear: “Any nation should clearly and carefully analyze these massive economic deals, which directly affect the environment and could have devastating effects globally.”

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