Ai Weiwei's newest installation is a first for the artist. Having never designed for a retail space before, Paris department store Le Bon Marché tapped on the contemporary designer to develop the storefront's display windows, atriums, and galleries. To achieve this, Weiwei teamed up with other collaborators from his own team and the store's to design dozens of kite–like structures.
Titled "Er Xi," or "Child's Play," the installation is divided into three parts. The interior of the store brings the 2,000-year-old classic text of Shan Hai Jin, also commonly referred to as Classic of Mountains and the Seas, to life with its floating interpretations of the myth's subjects.
The mythological creatures, often hybrids of several animals, include a turtle-fish, a fish-rooster, and a serpent spirit with a human head, are crafted using a traditional Chinese kite–making technique in which silk or paper is stretched over malleable bamboo frames that intersect. The artist worked with a team of expert artisans from Shandong Province, a pivotal cultural and religious site along the Yellow River on the eastern side of the country, to perfect this delicate technique. Lights installed in the structures remind viewers of the traditional Chinese paper lantern.
While the indoor installation is meant to bring out our inner child, the window displays and outdoor scenes are models of Weiwei's most famous works, including “Surveillance Camera," “Brain Inflation,” and “Study of Perspective." The reproductions reflect the artist's many politically charged themes such as the power of the Chinese state, which are heavily influenced by his father, Chinese poet and activist Ai Qing, who spent the first 20 years of his son's life in internment camps.