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258 FAKE
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258 FAKE is a series of photographs and videos centering on two elements of Ai Weiwei’s studio activity in Beijing: pets and haircuts. Over the years, Ai’s studio has been home to over forty cats. One of Ai’s favorite studio activities is the haircut, presented as a collection of straight lines, extreme angles, spirals, and negative space.

Video edited by:
Li Dongxu

Quotes:
Freedom is a god-given right. No matter if you are rich or poor, intelligent or not, it belongs to you, and no one can touch it.
- Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist (b. 1957)

History is always the missing part of the puzzle in everything we do.
- Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist (b. 1957)

Music Credit:
Punkgod

Artwork:
258 Fake, 2011

“[Photography] . . . is similar to the seemingly truthful—but actually false—state of various kinds of ‘knowledge,’” Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei wrote in 2003. “No matter whether or not we are convinced of the information that is presented to us, every bit of it is useless in allaying our doubts.”

That tension between fact and fiction, particularly inherent in 21st-century digital photography, is at the heart of Ai’s 258 Fake, a 2011 work the Harvard Art Museums recently acquired. The installation consists of 12 monitors that display a total of 7,677 digital photographs—most of which were created with smartphones—arranged thematically.

Viewers are confronted with an array of snapshots, from the inane to the deadly serious: the artist giving another man a bowl cut (using an actual bowl), a wide-eyed cat, a plate of food, rubble from Sichuan’s devastating 2008 earthquake. The sheer number and quick rotation of images—each monitor changes every four seconds—reflect both the immediacy and the transience of experiences in the age of digital photography and social media.

Ai created the images between 2003 and 2011 and originally published them on his popular blog. (Chinese authorities shut down the blog in 2011, the same year Ai was arrested on charges of “economic crimes” and detained for 81 days.) […] The work’s title, a nod to the name and address of Ai’s FAKE Design studio in Beijing and a cheeky play on words (the Chinese pronunciation of “fake” is similar to a certain four-letter word in English), also elicits the rhetorical question: if the focus of this work is the “fake,” then what is real?

Pets + Haircuts