Ai Weiwei Is Creeping on New York with an Army of Drones, and Instagram Is Loving It

Instagrammers have turned the Chinese artist’s unsettling exploration of state surveillance into an opportunity for selfies.

18948182_150244515519649_6206711785534259200_n (1).jpg
Courtesy of @modernist_muse.

Last year, the artist Ai Weiwei celebrated the Chinese government returning his passport by putting on no less than four exhibitions in New York, including even a thrift shop in Soho that was in fact stocked with the abandoned belongings of thousands of refugees forced to relocate to a camp on the border of Greece and Macedonia.

Ai’s work continues to spotlight sociopolitical crises, of which there is no shortage these days. This week, he unveiled an expansive installation in collaboration with the architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron inside the Park Avenue Armory on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (this exhibition comes on the heels of the 13 Cate Blanchetts that were projected throughout the cavernous Drill Hall). (It’s not the first time Ai has collaboarted with Herzog and de Meuron: They have worked together for the past 15 years on projects like the 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium—which Ai later said he regretted taking part in because the games were “merely a stage for a political party to advertise its glory to the world.”)

_Hansel & Gretel_, as the installation is eerily called, also happens to be interactive, whether visitors like it or not. From the moment they step into Drill Hall, each of their movements is tracked and monitored via drones. Unlike the artist Jordan Wolfson’s equally chilling yet slightly more menacing robot, which employed similar technology to lunge at viewers, though, each visitor is then simply projected back onto the installation, as a white light follows them to make sure they won’t get lost in the darkness—and so they can’t avoid the cameras’s glare. Still, many of them have taken to throwing up peace signs—or, in the case of the artist himself, a middle finger—at the drones. And of course, they’re posting about the chilling experience on Instagram. Witness their encounters, here.

Meet the Chameleons of the Art World, aka the Humans of Frieze New York: