Sean Martindale getting his Solidarity Buzz at the AGO’s Stand by Ai Weiwei event. This performance was part of Martindale’s interdisciplinary work to engage the public with social issues. Based in Toronto, his installations have been featured on the CBC’s Great Minds of Design, TVO and included in the documentary This Space Available. He has a MFA from OCAD University and has exhibited in Montreal, Madrid, New York, Shanghai, Vancouver, Venice, Paris, Brussels and many more.
In my mind, all art is political in one way or another–even if the artist isn’t creating it with that intension. It can be read in a political way, or it has political impact, especially when you’re doing work that’s being shown in public. My primary practice is out in public space. I do public interventions which are usually about the particular spaces and issues that are relevant in those locations.
I appreciated Ai Weiwei’s work prior to the Love the Future, Free Ai Weiwei statute but I was prompted to make it when a whole bunch of outspoken and politically active people, not just Ai Weiwei, were swept up. It was part of a larger action by the Chinese government to silence political protest. I felt like I, as an artist, had a responsibility to respond because Ai Weiwei is a visual artist and some galleries, institutions and even artists had distanced themselves from him at that time. I wanted to lend my support and stand in solidarity and raise more attention for the issue.
The first place I showed it was at the Whippersnapper Gallery. Then, I took it around to spots with political resonance–city hall, the Chinese consulate, outside of Queen’s Park legislature. I’ve also shown it at the ROM [Royal Ontario Museum] when they premiered Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.
For the statute, I collected cardboard from Toronto’s Chinatown and Kensington Market area. That was important to me because I like using salvaged materials, but also because those are some of the traces of our relationship with China. We don’t live separately from China. So many of our goods come from there. That trading of goods, and having everything that says, ‘Made in China,’ should be an indication that we have a relationship with this country on the other side of the world–whether we acknowledge that or not.
The first time I installed the statue, before there was any gallery text explaining who it was, several Chinese citizens from the neighbourhood pointed and said, ‘Oh Ai Weiwei!’ They recognized him, which was great because at that point, I knew I’d captured his likeness. People were visiting me while I was making it, but they knew already so I couldn’t rely on them to be good judges of whether I’d captured his likeness entirely. It’s a rewarding experience when you’ve been stuck in a studio working on something intensely and then it’s out in the world and you can talk to people about it.
–Sean Martindale, as told to Studio Beat
Photos by Courtney Vokey
Visit Sean Martindale’s website here.