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.
They took photographs and were interviewed about what they saw, felt, and thought. This past weekend in Philadelphia for an art writers conference, I visited the Slought Foundation, where there's a workshop showing of photographs of and by dozens of participants, and their interviews—some translated, some not. This is only the earliest download of all the information taken in as part of Fairytale, which is being organized and sifted by Hong Kong-based curator Melissa Lam and Slought director Aaron Levy.
Saturday night at the foundation, Levy announced that the project needs volunteer translators for the hundreds of interviews yet to be read and brought into English. It's delicate work, because anything the participants said that could endanger them with the government has to be redacted. But if I spoke Chinese, I'd want to work on it—it's fun reading the responses.
If you speak Chinese and want to help Ai and Fairytale, email Levy.