Paris department store Le Bon Marché has been transformed into an immersive installation of bamboo and paper installations by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei with his latest exhibition ‘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 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 mythology, 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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Speaking about his first department store exhibition, Ai Weiwei said: “Showing at Le Bon Marché is using a new medium, the department store, to encounter a new audience as broad as a museum’s. 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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While the exterior displays utilise 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, the large scale bamboo and paper objects bring the original mythological forms to life. Meanwhile, the gallery is designed as a space where visitors can engage more intimately with the works. The space 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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All images © Gabriel de la Chapelle