23 August–11 October 200823 Aug–11 Oct 2008
For his contribution to last year’s Documenta, the big survey of world art that occurs every five years in the small German town of Kassel, prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei flew in 1001 of his countrymen to see the show. The volunteers, selected by Ai Weiwei, mostly from an open call on his blog, came for a week 200 at a time, with airfares and lodging covered. The artist chose ‘those who are not able to travel overseas under normal conditions, or those to whom traveling overseas has a very important meaning’. While international travel is typically available only to upper-class Chinese, the group included farmers, laid-off workers, street vendors, teachers, students, rock singers, artists and engineers. Identifiable through their ‘tourist uniform’ designed by the artist, participants lived communally in an abandoned factory, and were free to roam around Kassel but could not leave the city. DubbedFairytale – Kassel was home to the Brothers Grimm from 1798 to 1830 – the work offered a doubling. The exotic Chinese visitors were at once art objects and viewers; through an awareness of their gaze, the German locals could also imagine themselves as exotic, as objects for their visitors’ regard. The artist documented the project in a three-hour film. Thanks to Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, through whose initiative Fairytale was first exhibited in Australia.