Picture the scene. Berlin, August 2015. It had been a long time since Germany has seen this kind of heat, and the place was swarming with wasps.
We had rented a flat in Mitte for a week, and arrived a few days earlier. So far, we had eaten burgers for every meal and I was not happy about this. I wanted something green.
It had been six hours since we last ate. Everyone was hungry when we stumbled upon Tommi’s Burger Joint (up until recently, the best burger Mr. S had ever tasted, by the way). I did not want to go in, but, thankfully, we did.
The place was empty except for a woman, her young son, a long-haired youth at the counter (appearing to be the only employee), and, a man customising his own sauce at the get-your-own-sauce area. I did not see this man. I was in a grumpy mood and decided that I didn’t want anything to eat, even though I did want something to eat. I went straight to a seat, whilst the rest of my family went to the counter to select their burgers. Again.
A few minutes later, my son came over, “I think that man (sauce-customiser) over there must be famous. The man who works here has just asked him for a selfie. He was mixing loads of sauces together to make his own sauce. I am going to do that, when he has finished”. He was very excited by this prospect.
I looked up. Gobsmacked. It was Ai WeiWei. But it can’t be him because he has no passport and can’t leave China. So I tell my son it is someone who is the absolute double of Ai WeiWei. He does not want to disappoint the burger server, so he is pretending to be him. Remember those sunflower seeds you filled your pockets with at the Tate? He didn’t.
Mr. S arrives at the table. “Who is that? The lad who works here is sure making a fuss”. Ai WeiWei had still not managed to get back to his table. “It’s someone posing as Ai WeiWei”, I say.
Mr. S annoyingly accuses me of saying the first famous Chinese person that comes into my head. I am insulted. I love Ai WeiWei, and once spent three months looking at a giant portrait of him. I told Mr. S that Ken Hom is the first person that comes into my head, actually. He is American and an honorary Brit, though. I wondered if this was casual racism.
“I don’t know what Ai WeiWei looks like”, says Mr S.
“Exactly like that”, I tell him, and we all look over.
Ai WeiWei looks at us and gives us a big smile. Him and the German lad share a little laugh. They think we are wondering who he is. He goes to sit with his son and partner. They enjoy their burgers in peace.
When we got back to the flat, and wifi, I discover Ai WeiWei is in Berlin and all over Instagram. Graciously having his photograph taken with anyone who asked. Big smiles on all.
Henceforth, burgers in our house may be taken ‘The Ai WeiWei Way’, if so desired.
This is the eleventh square in my patchwork of dads. It is made from discarded books, magazines, postcards and junk mail. It is made from the actual papers, I have not printed or copied anything. There are sixteen squares in total. You can see the whole piece here.
Ai WeiWei is the father of Lao.
The square was cut from a Royal Academy leaflet. The photograph is by Harry Pearce/ Pentagram.
All of my work is individually numbered, this piece is 798. It can be found in my shop.