Ai vs AI: Ai Weiwei asks the big questions nightly in central London

Ai Weiwei and Circa consider the role of the question in Piccadilly Circus, London

Ai vs AI: piccadilly circus with Ai Weiwei question displayed on building: Can you describe a sunset using only numbers?
(Image credit: London, Piccadilly Lights Rendering _ Ai vs AI by Ai Weiwei © CIRCA.jpg)

Love or hate, which lasts longer? Is Edward Snowden guilty? Will capitalism have an end? For Ai Weiwei, it’s not the answer to these questions that is interesting, but rather the way we search for it. 

In a new exhibition at Piccadilly Circus, London, Ai explores this drive for information. Over the course of 81 days – the length of time he spent in a Chinese prison – the artist asks questions, a new one each day, to both artificial intelligence (AI) and to the general public. 

For Ai, it marks his first experimentation with artificial intelligence as an art form. ‘In our current epoch, characterised by its complexity and multifaceted nature, the confluence of our knowns and unknowns presents the need for us to reframe our inquiries in a rejuvenated manner,’ he says. ‘This is a period abundant with questions; never before has humanity grappled with a state of tumult and bewilderment to this extent.’

Ai vs AI, an 81-day quest for enlightenment

ai weiwei seated with paper on the floor

Ai Weiwei

(Image credit: Ai vs AI - Ai Weiwei Portrait 2024, Credit Daniel Adhami © CIRCA (11).jpg)

Ai draws inspiration from the Tiānwèn (天問) – 172 questions to the gods, written by poet Qu Yuan 2,300 years ago on the walls of a temple – for the Circa 20:24 project. His chosen questions, ranging from the humorous to the philosophical, are all set to appear at 20:24 local time on the Piccadilly Lights, questioning our incessant need for information in a celebration of sensory overload. While some questions can be painful – Why am I here? Why did this happen to me? – they are, essentially, human, a clear distinction between humans and the machine that seeks to answer them.

‘In the present era, if art exists, its essence lies in endeavouring to forge the potential liberation of individuals from the shackles of knowledge or the bondage of information,’ Ai adds. ‘This is not about freedom of speech. This is about freedom of questions. Everybody has the right to ask questions. Questions are important because they relate to our personal stories. If humans will ever be liberated, it will be because we ask the right questions, not provide the right answers.’

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) in Piccadilly Circus, London

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.