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Press Release: Ai Weiwei, Ai vs AI

Press release




To view the 81 Questions by Ai Weiwei, click here
To download the media pack, click here

(Piccadilly Circus, London) 4 January 2024 ➳ Launching a new seasonal programming structure for 2024, CIRCA presents Ai vs AI, the first of four major new commissions, beginning with an 81-day quest for enlightenment (11 January – 31 March 2024) by world-leading artist, Ai Weiwei.

Over a period of 81 days – the length of time Ai spent detained in a Chinese prison – the artist will pose 81 questions addressed to artificial intelligence (AI) and the wider public. Appearing every evening at 20:24 (local time) on Piccadilly Lights, each question carefully considers the role of humankind’s minds and actions in a fast-changing world amid accelerating global crises and the rise of new technologies. “This is not about freedom of speech. This is about freedom of questions,” says Ai Weiwei. “Everybody has the right to ask questions.”

The 81 questions will be answered comparatively by Ai himself and AI systems and published online throughout these 81 days. Time and expectation are part of the project,” says Ai, with Ai vs AI marking the first time he has used artificial intelligence as a tool for artistry and a creative counterpart in his practice. Questions hold a wealth of wisdom, says Ai, who has curated a progression of 81 philosophical provocations – idiosyncratic, humane, humorous and incisive – that explore the centrality of our own personal quests to make sense of a world that has reached information overload.

The project takes inspiration from the Tiānwèn (天問, translated as ‘The Heavenly Questions’ or ‘Questions to Heaven’), a set of 172 questions to the gods written on the walls of a temple some 2,300 years ago by the legendary poet Qu Yuan. At the same time, it explores the coincidence that this commission will last for 81 days, the exact duration that Ai spent imprisoned by the Chinese Communist Party. During 81 days in prison, Ai Weiwei was subjected to continuous interrogation by an authority that wielded its absolute power through mass manipulation of information: an unequal right to ask questions and have them answered. The questions that will appear on the CIRCA screens in Ai vs AI are partly self-authored and partly gathered from friends and collaborators.  These questions will open a public forum for continuous acts of questioning, while seeking answers – from himself (Ai) as well as artificial intelligence (AI) to generate a portrait of the world today.

Launching CIRCA 20:24, this major new commission marks the beginning of a new seasonal programme consisting of four responses to the year, circa 2024. Ai Weiwei, who launched the CIRCA project in October 2020, returns as the first artist to embark on this three-month public residency by responding to the CIRCA 20:24 manifesto, BREAK FREE: TIME’S ARROW FLIES FOREVER FORWARD’: “For the year to come, we return to our point of departure with our questions renewed. How does art play a positive role in a world so fiercely divided? How do we live a creative life amid intensifying systems of artificial intelligence that threaten to remove humanity from artistic production? How do we integrate our minds into knowledge systems – ecological, digital, forbidden – whose workings defy us?

Marking the Year of the Wood Dragon (10 February 2024), each of the 81 questions appearing on Piccadilly Lights and billboard screens worldwide feature a specially created animation of the mythical creature soaring across the screen. According to the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle, 2024 promises to be a year of unpredictable change and transformation, calling for both courage and caution.

Ai vs AI will appear each night through January, February and March 2024 at the new time of 20:24 (local time) in London, Seoul, Milan, Lagos, Accra, Nairobi, Abidjan, Berlin, and further locations announced soon with answers from Ai and AI published on the CIRCA.ART website and social media.


‘Who am I?’ Edition of 81 from a series of 81 Questions by Ai Weiwei (£500 +VAT). Hand-signed And embossed by the artist. Available exclusively on circa.art


To coincide with the exhibition, ’81 Questions – a series of 81 hand-signed and embossed screen prints featuring the 81 questions posed by Ai Weiwei – will be available to purchase exclusively on CIRCA.ART for £500+VAT.

“Each Lego brick pixel represents a person”, says Ai Weiwei, who incorporates the plastic construction toy – a readymade material incorporated into many of his most recent works – into his print design for the first time. The black egalitarian pixel font and embossed baseplate combine technology with artisanal craft to create this thought-provoking and playful reflection on today’s world. Each print in the series of 81 Questions is hand-signed and numbered by the artist in editions of 81.




In our questions, more so than any answers, we can find the map of the human mind. We ask questions in search of learning and understanding, says Ai Weiwei, dividing ourselves from systems of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that lack interior identities. The questions we ask reveal our humanity and preoccupations, further distancing the human questioner from machine systems, which have no life story, no personhood from which any sincere question can arise.

Ai Weiwei’s 81 questions are both the continuation of a deep history of rational and spiritual inquiry as well as an innately idiosyncratic autoportrait. Ai vs AI is both an endeavour to reinvigorate the ancient convention of philosophical dialogues (from Socrates to The Enlightenment Salon) and a hand-drawn map of Ai’s own mind. Taking inspiration from both the Tiānwèn (‘The Heavenly Questions’) and Ai’s  81-day imprisonment, he explores how the act of questioning retains power today.  “Authorities always know more than you, and they play a game of not telling you what they know,” says Ai. At all times, they tell you less than you should know. Like many who have lived under authoritarian systems, Ai still has no answer to fundamental and life-shaping questions: “Why was I jailed? Why was I released?” Such painful and complex histories are the foundations of our identities; the questions Ai asks today are asked by the person who has lived this life, drawing an irresolvable distinction between the human and machine. “Questions are important because they relate to our personal stories.”

For all humans – from newly inquisitive children to longest-lived adults – the one capacity and freedom we retain is the question, says Ai. Answers are routinely and blandly mass-produced in knowledge factories – including schools, religious institutions, nations and national myths – yet we often believe answers remain more important than questions. Questions are, in themselves, generative: in asking, we sketch out a terrain vague of human inquiry: for thousands of years, Chinese poets and thinkers asked what we might find walking on the surface of the moon, says Ai – this unknown fueling creativity and generating poetry and song. For this fertile landscape of imagination, the arrival of astronauts on the moon and the photography of dusty craters delivered by lunar exploration marked the destruction of creative terrain. “Expression has always been structured by words and by forms – as fairy tales and mythology,” says Ai. “We have to give a symbolic character to any expression.”

Still, rising systems of technology and knowledge production present new challenges to our ability to question the world. In an age of rising artificial intelligence – when humanity’s role in many forms of knowledge labour is reduced to asking the right questions to powerful systems of information processing – we are reminded that questions are far more than a means to an end, says Ai. “If humans will ever be liberated, it will be because we ask the right questions, not provide the right answers.”




Ai Weiwei (11 January until 31 March, 2024)

20:24 GMT London, Piccadilly Lights
20:24 CET Berlin, Limes, Kurfürstendamm
20:24 CET Milan, Cadorna Square
20:24 KST Seoul, COEX K-Pop Square

To view the exhibition map, click here

A global citizen, artist and thinker, Ai Weiwei moves between modes of production and investigation, subject to the direction and outcome of his research, whether into the Chinese earthquake of 2008 (for works such as Straight, 2008-12 and Remembering, 2009) or the worldwide plight of refugees and forced migrants (for Law of the Journey and his feature-length documentary, Human Flow, both 2017). From early iconoclastic positions regarding authority and history, which included Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn and a series of middle-finger salutes to sites of power, Study of Perspective (both 1995), Ai’s production expanded to encompass architecture, public art and performance. Beyond concerns of form or protest, Ai now measures our existence in relation to economic, political, natural and social forces, uniting craftsmanship with conceptual creativity. Universal symbols of humanity and community, such as bicycles, flowers and trees, as well as the perennial problems of borders and conflicts, are given renewed potency through installations, sculptures, films and photographs, while Ai continues to speak out publicly on issues he believes important. He is one of the leading cultural figures of his generation and serves as an example for free expression both in China and internationally.

Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing and now lives and works in Portugal. He attended the Beijing Film Academy and later, on moving to New York (1983–1993), continued his studies at the Parsons School of Design. Major solo exhibitions include Kunsthal Rotterdam, Netherlands (2023); The Design Museum, London, UK (2023); Albertina Modern, Vienna, Austria (2022); Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, UK (2022); Serralves Museum, Porto, Portugal (2021); Cordoaria Nacional, Lisbon, Portugal (2021); Imperial War Museum, London, UK (2020); K20/K21, Düsseldorf, Germany (2019); OCA, São Paulo, Brazil (2018); Corpartes, Santiago, Chile (2018); Mucem, Marseille, France (2018); PROA, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2017); Sakip Sabanci, Museum, Istanbul, Turkey (2017); Public Art Fund, New York, NY, USA (2017); Israel Museum, Jerusalem (2017); Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy  (2016); 21er Haus, Vienna, Austria (2016); Helsinki Art Museum, Finland (2016); Royal Academy, London, UK (2015); Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany (2014); Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN, USA (2013); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., USA (2012); Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan (2011); Tate Modern, London, UK (2010) and Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2009). Architectural collaborations include the 2012 Serpentine Pavilion and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium, with Herzog and de Meuron. Among numerous awards and honours, he won the Lifetime Achievement award from the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards in 2008 and was made Honorary Academician at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 2011. His human rights work has been recognised through the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent in 2012 and Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award in 2015. 

Every evening at 20:24, CIRCA stops the clock across a global network of public screens and mobilises the world’s greatest creative minds to broadcast unique works of art that consider our world circa now. Funds generated from artist print sales enable the #CIRCAECONOMY – a circular model that supports the CIRCA free public art programme while creating life-changing opportunities for a global creative community. Since its launch in October 2020 on London’s Piccadilly Lights, CIRCA has distributed over £700,000 in cash grants, scholarships, and charitable donations.

Previous CIRCA-commissioned artists include Ai Weiwei, Cauleen Smith, Eddie Peake, Anne Imhof, Patti Smith, Tony Cokes, Emma Talbot, Vivienne Westwood, Yoko Ono, Marina Abramović, David Hockney, Cassandra Press, Shirin Neshat, Frank Bowling, and more. (circa.art)

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