In 2007, for his invited exhibition at the art fair, Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany, Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei did a strange thing. He put out a call on his blog (which was shut down in 2009 by Chinese authorities) asking for 1001 Chinese people to accompany him to the art fair in Kassel.

When I was invited by Documenta, I didn’t want to do a conventional work like painting or sculpture, but rather do a work which directly relates to the real lives of ordinary people… Then the idea came to bring 1,001 Chinese people to view the exhibition as audience, and create a work of itself. The basic concept behind the work is to create a condition which encourages self experience and extends people’s participation of art.

–Ai Weiwei  (source)

Ai Weiwei ended up with a whole bunch of regular working people, from cities, from small towns and villages, whom he picked from web applications, off the street, through community groups and through friends and acquaintances. His main criteria was that the candidates be unlikely to have the opportunity to take this kind of trip under normal conditions. The people were put up for a week in a refurbished former factory building in Kassel. Ai worked with filmmakers like Li Pengfei to document the trip. The resulting film is, according to Ai, “a truly realistic documentary about the current spiritual conditions of various Chinese people.”

What impresses me most about this work is the humor at the heart of the challenge to national and global politics which make travel and movement for leisure and pleasure a privilege only those with certain passports and economic means can enjoy. There is heartbreaking beauty in the immensity of taking (and finding, flying, housing, feeding, filming) 1001 people on vacation. The work cost about $4.1 million to produce. The size of that figure is dwarfed by the absurdity of our global systems, which make movement a matter of life or death for many, rendering it almost impossible for most people on earth to say, attend a world art fair in Germany. Is “Fairytale” art?

Fairytale is a work which relates to social, political and cultural aspects… I don’t even care whether it is an art work. –AW


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