Ai Weiwei’s dragons take over Paris
If you missed Ai Weiwei’s recent exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, don’t fret!!! For the first time famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is teaming with a retail space.
Ai Weiwei has created a work for Le Bon Marché department store in Paris. “Showing at Le Bon Marché is using a new medium, the department store, to encounter a new audience, as broad as a museum’s; one which doesn’t come for art in principle,” Ai Weiwei said in a statement
“This experience also allows me to find a new way to conceive an exhibition, with constraints that are different from a museum’s or a gallery’s. Exploring new potentials is an integral part of my work as an artist,” he added.
Commissioned to take over the display windows, atriums, and gallery of the stylish shopping center, Er Xi brings Ai into new territory, mingling his own aesthetic and cultural concerns with those of Le Bon Marché and its clientele. Er Xi, which translates to “child’s play,” draws inspiration from the ancient Chinese text Shan Hai Jing (The Classic of Mountains and Seas), the legends of which have been read and retold to children for millennia. Its many mythical characters, monsters, and heroes are familiar to most Chinese families, and now they’ll enchant a whole new following in Paris and bring out the child in us all.
Ai, who is based in Berlin since China lifted its travel ban on the artist earlier this year, said the kites harked back to his childhood. “It was the first object I made when I was 10, with bamboo torn at night from the window shutters, since there wasn’t any in the Gobi desert where I spent my childhood. For the string, all the children in the village stole from their mothers’ sewing boxes. We were proud. I kept that kite, it’s still with me,” he said.
The storytelling begins outside on the street, where the department store’s ten display windows are decked with a prelude to the works inside, showing fantastical creatures constructed from paper-and-bamboo versions of Chinese kites. With the help of master Chinese kitemaker Wong Yong Xun and a crew of Shandong artisans, Ai’s vision of a fairy-tale land, filled with chimeras, monsters, and fantasies, comes alive, bringing the traditional Chinese folk art of kitemaking to 21st-century Paris. Many of these works refer to Ai’s earlier pieces and his career-long concern with freedom and repression, here pared down to simple materials in stark white, steeped in department-store light.
Inside, the narrative continues in three dimensions, with more paper-and-bamboo sculptures, this time of Shan Hai Jing woodcuts, suspended from the ceilings of the cosmetics department. Gently illuminated from the inside, they glow like paper lanterns. In the tall spaces, the sculptures are viewable from all angles, playing out the fantasy of these floating, otherworldly creatures. In the gallery, a single dragon, woven out of bamboo thread, confronts visitors with mythological force, mouth agape, tongue extended, as if ready to breathe its fire.
At once playful and menacing, familiar and exotic, simple and exuberant, these characters charm and surprise, shaking up the neutral space by adding a bit of Ai Weiwei subversion to a typical shopping day.
At Le Bon Marché, 24 rue de Sèvres, Paris, France until February 20.
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