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How Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliasson Got 35,000 People to Draw on the Moon

One small click of the mouse, a giant leap for art

In the six weeks since Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliasson launched Moon, their collaborative web project, 35,000 people have made their marks on the site.

Welcome to the collective work of art in the age of virtual connectivity.

The impulse to create Moon was practical, but it was also utopian. The Danish-Icelandic artist and China’s artist activist had wanted to collaborate on a project, and Ai Weiwei can’t leave China, so they set up a virtual meeting place. And they opened it to the world.

Moon is a place where people from anywhere on Earth can connect through drawing. It exists beyond the art world, beyond borders, beyond traditional ideas of authorship and value.

Eliasson and Ai Weiwei are among the figures who are harnessing the web (and their own name recognition) to unite global audiences in participatory artworks, on a scale that was never before possible. Yoko Ono’s smilesfilm app, for example, taps into the ubiquity of the cell phone and the human predisposition for selfies.

Moon, open to anyone with a computer that runs Firefox or Chrome, channels the human impulse for collective mark-making that has persisted from Paleolithic cave painting through Pompeii through the rise of spray paint, with a stop in CBGB’s bathroom.

Not that there isn’t bathroom humor on the Moon—“the men’s toilet at least,” Eliasson told me on the phone from Denmark. “It’s odd mixture between the really creative, and side by side by something totally non-creative.”

It could be a cat picture. Or “it can also be your last wish or proposal to marry someone or something that matters,” he says.

“That’s how we came up with the Moon. It used to be part of Earth. It’s our friend, the marginalized part of the earth. It’s the idea that the Moon represents something unconscious from society.”

The organizers have seen a transformation in the content since the site was launched. In the beginning, there were scribbles, doodles, and drawings. Then came flipbooks and word poems.

Now, more and more, there are collaborations, and clusters, and virtual versions of the Surrealist game Exquisite Corpse. Sometimes people work together on large drawings. Other times, interlopers take over.

“Clearly we have no control over what is actually going on,” Eliasson says.

So far the artists haven’t found it necessary to moderate the site, which has a disclaimer warning against intolerant posts.

The biggest surprise for Eliasson was not how many visitors have made a mark–but how many haven’t. “People are spending a lot of time strolling around on the moon, looking, archeologically digging around,” he says.

You can explore content by surfing the photos, browsing the hashtags, and following the #MoonMessage hashtag on Twitter.

Next up, the artists are thinking about a Moon app for Tablets and phones. Also, Eliasson says, they’re  considering an exhibition that would bring some Moon drawings to Earth.

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