AI WEIWEI’S CONTRIBUTION to Documenta 12 is titled Fairytale, but in China, where Ai is as famous as a movie star, people have acerbically taken to calling it “Yellow Peril.” The original concept for the artwork was simple: Round up 1,001 Chinese people from the artist’s sprawling, blog-mediated social network, give them matching clothes and luggage, fly them en bloc to Kassel, billet them on bamboo bunks in Ai-designed temporary quarters inside an old textile factory, and set them to wandering the city for the three-month duration of the show, which opens June 16. A spokesperson at Ai’s studio says, “To design also means to set up a condition, which makes individuals change. The project is about a new way to communicate, to participate, a new spiritual condition.” The primary design object here, in other words, is not clothing or suitcases but the participants’ experiences, even their spirits. In its emphasis on changing individuals by changing their material circumstances, Fairytale resonates with both midcentury Western architectural idealism and current Chinese political ideology.
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