Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei in the elevator when taken in custody by the police, Sichuan, China, August 2009, C-print, 4 3/8 x 5 7/8".

Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei in the elevator when taken in custody by the police, Sichuan, China, August 2009, C-print, 4 3/8 x 5 7/8".

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei in the elevator when taken in custody by the police, Sichuan, China, August 2009, C-print, 4 3/8 x 5 7/8".

WARHOL COULD NEVER have predicted that we’d get to this point. I’m on Twitter, and so are you, and so is the president of the United States. Twitter has changed the configuration of culture, as have the Internet and social networking more generally, of course. It used to be that in order to have the same opportunities as the president to make yourself heard, you had to have wealth and connections. In the future it won’t be that way, although the old power structure will still exist, and its defenders will fight hard. In fact, they’re already fighting. They are unhappy about people exchanging information or expressing ideas without permission, and they feel they must do something about it. This is the situation in China now. If you acknowledge the new freedom, it becomes an issue of life and death. Meanwhile, because of Google and similar companies, much of our private information is in corporate hands, and the technology of surveillance has outpaced the legal and ethical systems that are meant to protect us. This is the downside. Yet even though states and corporations are using many methods, from surveillance to prosecution, to gain total control of communication networks and the information they contain, such control is ultimately impossible to achieve.

It’s not clear exactly how all this will affect art, but it undoubtedly will. After all, art in all its forms is about the effort to understand and be understood. The basic vehicle of culture is the individual, and now every individual has unprecedented agency with respect to expression, reception, and communication. One of the most profound aspects of this agency is that you can be anywhere—even the unhappiest place in the world—but if you have an iPad or a computer, you can escape into your own space. You can connect with whomever you want, and look at whatever you want. This kind of freedom is almost inconceivable. It is not a human experience,because human experience consists of existing at one point at any given time. To be able to communicate with so many people simultaneously, or to be able to hear music whenever you want, to watch films, to be absorbed into a narrative—this is miraculous, more intense than legends.

Translated from Chinese by Lee Ambrozy.