within paris’ le bon marché rive gauche department store, ai weiwei turns the historic retail space into his playground with an expansive exhibition of bamboo + paper kite installations. for ‘er xi’ — meaning ‘child’s play’ — ai weiwei references shan hai jing, a collection of epic tales and popular legends that dates back to chinese antiquity, told by children for more than 2,000 years. the artist selected some two dozen characters and mythological creatures to personify inside the space, adopting the ancient technique of traditional kites, which brings together the flexibility of bamboo and lightweight silk. 

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the large creatures are suspended from the ceiling to be viewed from multiple vantage points
all images © gabriel de la chapelle

 

 

the exhibition is divided into three areas of the store: windows, atriums and the gallery. the ten storefront display cases of le bon marché are transformed into stages for mythological storytelling, offering a prelude to the pieces displayed inside the department store. derived from the narratives and imagery of chinese myths, the works feature symbolism from various art movements, contemporary and historical events, and the artists own oeuvre. ai weiwei selected bamboo kite making as his language of expression, a craft that offers lightness and malleability to create objects that are simple, functional and flat in appearance.

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the atriums showcase three-dimensional interpretations of shan hai jing woodcuts

 

 

the pieces presented within the atrium extend the narratives presented in the storefront windows. while the exterior displays utilize predominately flat bamboo frames, the atriums showcase three-dimensional interpretations of shan hai jing woodcuts. suspended from the ceiling to be viewed from multiple vantage points, these large scale bamboo and paper objects bring the original mythological forms to life.

 

the gallery is designed as a space where visitors can engage more intimately with the works. the site features a dragon made of woven bamboo, which has an architectural and dimensional quality that correlates to the interior columns of the gallery. 

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the large scale bamboo and paper objects bring the original mythological forms to life 

 

 

‘showing at le bon marché is using a new medium, the department store, to encounter a new audience as broad as a museum’s,’ ai weiwei describes. ‘introducing the fantastic idea within a retail space strikes the imagination of customers, visitors and passersby. we all lead parallel lives in this other world of dreams, fantasies and fears. we must learn to coexist with them, as they are an integral part of our humanity; to embrace our mythology. children know how to do this naturally. this exhibition speaks to our inner child.’

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the storefront display cases of le bon marché are transformed into stages for mythological storytelling

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the exterior pieces offer a prelude to the works displayed inside the department store

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the works feature symbolism from various art movements and the artists own oeuvre

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ai weiwei selected bamboo kite making as his language of expression