Ai's latest work of art to open without him

Dissident artist unable to leave China to see his London pavilion. By Clifford Coonan in Beijing

It may be one of the most spectacular pieces yet by China's most famous dissident artist, but there's a good chance that Ai Weiwei won't get to see his latest work of art, the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London – at least not for the time being.

Ai is under constant surveillance by 15 security cameras and teams of police officers in Beijing. He can leave his home, but is not allowed leave the capital. It is hardly an ideal situation for an artist collaborating with architects Herzog & de Meuron on the pavilion in London's Hyde Park.

"Herzog and de Meuron are old friends, and we were asked if we were interested and we started the whole project. We all know the nature of my situation – I can't really travel. So we took several Skype sessions to come up with the concepts," Ai told i .

The task was made easier because Ai had worked with the Swiss architects on the Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics, although he subsequently distanced himself from the building as he felt it was too totalitarian.

In April last year, he was picked up by police at Beijing airport and subsequently disappeared. His arrest caused a global outcry, but when he was freed after 81 days he was muzzled and ordered to be quiet.

This hasn't worked. The bearded, stocky 55-year-old remains an icon for China's dissidents and activists, but is still stuck in Beijing. He puts a positive spin on this. "I can travel in Beijing, and it's quite large. I can go to the park and other places. Of course I'd like to see the pavilion in London and see old friends, and see how it's existing. In life we have a lot of regrets and it's part of life," he said.

He is currently suing the Chinese government over a £1.5m tax evasion penalty it levied on the company that markets his work. A ton of the porcelain sunflower seeds he displayed at the Tate Modern went for £480,000 at auction, a record sum for him.

He speaks of the pavilion's "archeological gesture". The function of the design is to encourage visitors to look beneath the surface of the park, and back in time. And despite what you might think, Ai really enjoyed creating art over the internet.

"Using Skype is lovely... You only have to communicate the spiritual part," he said. "This is a new definition of this pavilion which is very different... It's to offer something the public will hopefully enjoy at this moment."

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