An International Fairytale in Need of Translators: You Can Help Ai Weiwei | Slog:
When a thousand and one Chinese citizens all traveled en masse to Kassel, Germany, in 2007, they did it for an artwork called Fairytale, conceived by the artist Ai Weiwei. Ai would later be jailed for 80 days by the Chinese government; the BBC reported yesterday that he's begun Tweeting again despite a prohibition—but back in 2007, he had the cooperation of the government in exporting a living artwork temporarily.
For Fairytale, the expenses of the Chinese volunteer travelers were paid. They were allowed to wander the city of Kassel, but not to leave it. Their experiences, while being observed by an audience from around the world, were the artwork. They were given beds and uniforms, and 1,001 wooden chairs were placed for them inside the international art exhibition Documenta (which takes place every four years in Kassel). Documenta is huge, and famous for making your feet sore as you wander through it—the chairs were places for the Chinese audience to rest. Even when they weren't there, their presence was suggested by the empty chairs scattered amidst all the other art seen by a roving international audience. (In some cases, people liked the chairs better than the proper sculptures, paintings, and drawings.)
For many of the travelers, it was their first time outside mainland China. They were average people: parents, factory workers, students—all with very personal perspectives. (Ai has said that Fairytale is not a single project but 1,001 separate projects.) But they were also representatives of China's rising world power, brought to Europe to observe, and to be observed.