Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei’s work can be socially incendiary, at least in the eyes of the Chinese government. Back in 2011, that was more than enough to get Ai arrested, detained and indefinitely barred from leaving Beijing.
After four long years, the dissident artist got his passport back in July 2015. He used the new freedom to visit an exhibition of his work in London. But upon return, he noticed something strange in his Beijing home: a series of what he calls “listening devices” embedded in his studio and living room.
Ai posted photos of a suspected bug device to Instagram and Twitter yesterday (Oct. 4), claiming that he discovered it—a jumble of electrical wires and equipment, lurking behind a wall socket—while renovating his studio.
“When I found these bugs, I had a strange feeling,” Ai told CNN. “Even though I was quite sure that these technologies have existed and the authorities have been using them for some unspeakable purpose, it’s just like [when] you know a snake exists, but when you see it, you feel such a chill.”
Liu Xiaoyuan, a human rights lawyer and friend of Ai’s, tweeted (link in Chinese) that the suspected bugs may have been placed there as long as four years ago, when Ai’s artistic work first caught the government’s attention.
Ai has previously taken surveillance as an opportunity to make even more art: The Guardian notes that when cameras were installed outside his studio, he hung lanterns from them. And in 2012—on the one-year anniversary of his arrest—he set up webcams at home and offered a 24-hour feed of himself online.