Trial About Fake

4h 30min (vrije in- en uitgang)

9/05 – 14:00 > 18:30

In Trial About Fake , the Brussels-based documentary maker Manu Riche recounts the trial conducted by the Chinese authorities in 2012 against Ai Weiwei, one of the country’s most influential artists, but a critic of its politics and a source of embarrassment to the regime. According to Riche, the only pertinent way of documenting this sensational trial is to reproduce it exactly inside the cosy walls of a theatre. Fifty surveillance cameras randomly record the images of this pretence of justice. Who is watching and who is being watched? By creating a viral copy of the trial, Riche questions the relationship between the documentary maker and what he is documenting. In his quest for truth, he produces coverage of the trial to the point of absurdity: fiction itself is in the dock!

Concept & direction
Manu Riche

Production assistant
Nathalie Jacobs

Sound and video concept & design
Paul Millot, Julien Dutertre

Technical support
Ralf Nonn

Graphical support
Rudy De Rechter

Anna Luyten

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Bozar, KVS

Riche, Riche & Riche (Brussels)

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Bozar (Brussels), KVS (Brussels), Fake Ltd

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Trial About Fake

It could be a parlour game.


  • 18 players
  • The literal transcription of the trial conducted in China in 2012 against Chinese artist Ai Weiwei / Duration: 7 hours
  • An open, undecorated room
  • Four silk cloths of 4 x 5 metres (these can be placed in the room in many different ways, e.g. as projection screens)
  • 45 security cameras

There are no rules.

The players are handed the transcript and may speak, gesticulate, whisper, shout, and interpret as per their own will and preference. Each is their own director. The public can freely walk in and out, wander round, sit down, leave or stay. Security cameras film at random what is happening in the space. They define how the players handle the lack of rules. The ‘security images’ are projected onto the white silk cloths. The public looks at them and interprets them at their sole discretion. This is the décor in which the players must maintain themselves.

Trial About Fake is a performance, and in all respects a realistic representation of the game in which artist Ai Weiwei finds himself. It reflects his life condition and, in a certain way, that of all of us: mock trials, control, will. The irony of our continuously observed illusion of freedom.

“Theatre, performance, documentary, fiction film, for me it’s all the same”, says Manu Riche. In all of his works, the major underlying pillars are his unobtrusive but painstaking thoughtfulness, the deepening of his personal experience, and the connectedness he seeks with others. Trial About Fake is also a document of a reflection, an experience, and a relationship. It is the reproduction of the mental Long March that film and theatre director Manu Riche covered with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Manu Riche met Ai Weiwei for the first time in China in 2008, during the filming of a documentary for the Canvas TV series Hoge Bomen (High Trees) with Bozar director Paul Dujardin. Manu Riche: “Ai Weiwei was supposedly at the peak of his power then. He belonged to the elite, but at the same time he also time kept his distance from it. That fascinated me.”

Together with architects Herzog & de Meuron, Ai Weiwei had worked on the concept for the Bird’s Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics, but refused to participate in the ‘propaganda’ of the ostensible new openness. He was an avid blogger. He criticized the politics in China. He pointed to abuses by laying them open. Sometimes playful, always serious. Never someone to point the finger directly. After the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, in which the government claimed they did not know how many children died under the rubble of the poorly built schools, Ai Weiwei and his team went as volunteers to investigate. They inventoried 5212 children’s names and showed these names to the government. A year later, he decorated a wall in Munich with thousands of backpacks that had been used as school bags by the Chinese children, and wrote an inscription in Chinese characters: They lived happily in this world for seven years.

Manu Riche conceived the plan to make a documentary film with Ai Weiwei: a long journey through China. It was not to be a trip over land; it was to be a journey through other highs and lows. It started with small interventions. Short knocks on the door. The authorities began to question Ai Weiwei’s blog and imposed a ban on his activities. The artist and his surroundings were increasingly questioned. Ai Weiwei was arrested at a solidarity action for a human rights activist. He was injured. On 3 April 2011 he was arrested at Beijing airport by the Chinese police and taken to a secret place where they held him for 81 days. Later he was released on bail. He could no longer move freely. The official reason given for his arrest by the Chinese authorities was that Ai Weiwei was accused of tax evasion. It became increasingly clear that the plan for a Long March through China was not feasible. Manu Riche dropped the idea of making a film.

Manu Riche: “I wanted to make something other than a documentary. I didn’t just want to document Ai Weiwei, but also the role of his work in society. Film is too demonstrative. I wanted to make a survey of his work, of his situation, and of the relationship we as Europeans have with China, and I wanted to question myself.” Therefore, the lawsuit Fake Ltd seemed an interesting angle. Ai Weiwei was convicted without evidence in 2011 for alleged tax evasion and had to pay 1.7 million euros to the government. To be able to appeal against that decision, he first had to pay 850,000 euros. But his presence at the court hearing was revoked on 20 June 2012. Manu Riche received the transcript of the trial.

Manu Riche: “A lawsuit is supposedly an objective, rational moment, but you discover a lot about the exercise of power. Who is the government? Who is the culprit? Who is the accuser? And then there’s that whole absurdity of a lawsuit taking place in a legal vacuum. I wanted the lawsuit that Ai Weiwei has never been able to experience to be reenacted. In a theatre. A performance watched by 45 cameras.”

“I have great respect for what Manu is doing”, says Ai Weiwei. “He has continued to visit me all these years. We have tweaked and polished the idea. “Initially, Ai Weiwei wanted to design the décor. Until it was decided that there should be no décor. The décor is ‘naked’. It’s the eyes of the spectators and the unfocused look of the security cameras that define the area. Ai Weiwei calls the whole thing a mirror of his existence.

Ai Weiwei has still not had his passport returned. There are security cameras aimed at his house. He is constantly monitored. This project ‘for Ai Weiwei’ is performed only once during the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, at the KVS. Manu Riche calls it ‘a kind of kit’. “The players may differ: Western lawyers, art collectors, …”

The performance at the KVS, filmed by security cameras, is then seen at the Palace of Fine Arts (Bozar). As an installation. Because at Bozar, Manu Riche is also presenting a film of 24-hours in the life of Ai Weiwei. A literal record of life in the hotel room where Ai Weiwei has been writing his memoires over the last few months. The whole time, Ai Weiwei is fully present in his absence. Ai Weiwei cannot leave his décor.

He has still not had his passport returned. He lent Manu Riche dozens of low stools that were once part of an installation. They are reminders of the traditions of the rural population in China. The Brussels public can sit on them. He also lent one of his marble replicas of a security camera. The kind of marble from which monuments and tombstones are also carved.

Anna Luyten, 30 April 2015

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Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) is an architect, filmmaker, writer, and artist. His art business is called Fake Ltd. He is one of the most influential contemporary artists, not only for his visionary work, but also for his political activism in China, which he shapes in a very personal way. Ai Weiwei’s work includes: photos, films, music clips, documentaries, objects, tweets, and installations.

Manu Riche (b. 1964) is a film and theatre maker. He’s known for his compelling documentary portraits. His film career in television began in the late-1980s. For the RTBF programme Striptease Riche made innovative reports that provided a special insight into daily life. In 2008-2009 he made television portraits of politicians, businessmen, and cultural figures. In 2012 he directed the monologue Raymond, with Josse De Pauw in the role of football coach Raymond Goethals, for the KVS. With Irish writer Partick Marnham, Riche made the award-winning documentary Snake Dance in 2013, about the roots of the atomic bomb. He is currently putting the finishing touches on a film adaptation of Problemski Hotel, the novel by Dimitri Verhulst.

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