Devastated by his time in Germany, which he regards as still Nazi, the artist has moved. As he unveils a powerful virtual reality artwork, he talks about needing a monster to fight – and why he’d like to be a barber

‘When we filmed this,” says Ai Weiwei, “the elephants didn’t know what to do.” The artist is talking about the groundbreaking documentary he has just made about unemployed logging elephants in Myanmar. You watch the film, shot with 360-degree virtual reality technology, through a special headset. Turn your head slowly and your view gradually changes. Turn your head 180 degrees and the picture changes completely.

“Once they were used for labour,” he goes on, “and now they have lost their job. And when they lost their job, each elephant had a few people to take care of it, so those people also lost their job.” Ai (Weiwei is his first name and means unknown or future) relates to the elephants and their handlers as readily as he does to the subject of the second part of his mesmerising VR project – this one about the lives of Rohingya refugees in a Bangladeshi camp.

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