Ai Weiwei outside his studio that is under almost constant surveillance by Chinese authorities.

Ai has ruffled more than a few feathers in the Chinese government over the last decade with his unbridled pursuit of free expression and artistic commentary. Following several run-ins with the authorities, he’s been stripped of his passport, unable to leave the country. And so his fawning over the lazy resident felines of his Beijing studio, charting their every move like a proud parent, is part stop-and-smell-the-roses appreciation, part geopolitical necessity. For an internationally in-demand artist physically confined to a relatively minor art market, the ability to communicate and disseminate work over the internet is both a necessity and a godsend.

“For many years I’ve been carried away by this idea of talking to strangers,” says Ai, “talking to people you would never meet. And they would share their joy or their pain or anxieties. You can see how the Internet is really a celebration of the masses.”

Last November, the endlessly curious Ai broke through with his most engaging web-based work to date: the stark, ethereal “Moon,” a case study in 21st-century web-based collaborations and an alluring hint of what Ai’s future may hold. Co-conceived with Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, “Moon” combines Eliasson’s infatuation with natural phenomena and Ai’s penchant for web-based dissemination.

“I’ve known Weiwei for a long time,” says Eliasson, “and we have spoken about art often enough. But we never had an opportunity to work together on something. I thought Ai’s situation would make that very difficult, but nowadays, the conversations we are having are not face-to-face; you can still share ideas disregarding the fact that you cannot be together.”

And so, “Moon” was born. The project is a digital platform (located at that urges users to stake out a quadrant of real estate on a lunar sphere and “make a mark” using a series of brushes and tools. The soft grey background recalls the squishy lunar regolith awaiting an astronaut’s bootprint, and the monochromatic palette maintains a clean simplicity. The site is a digital wall begging for graffiti, and like its celestial namesake, the appeal of “Moon” lies as much in its open possibility as its final form.

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