It is the first day that the public can visit Ai Weiwei’s Turbine hall commission. There is something of the ‘British by the seaside’ about the atmosphere. That is until you start to unravel the story of how the millions of Sunflower Seeds came to be here. Each one has been individually created and nothing brings this home more than the video about how the work was produced. No doubt if you visit the installation you will bend down to hold and examine a seed, just in the same way it was held by a person thousands of miles away and applied with three or four strokes of a brush. The mind simply reels as your try and comprehend the sheer scale of what has been produced. Time to wander the shale-like surface and contemplate the sublime quality of the experience. JS
There is a further dimension to the project whereby Weiwei invites people to send him questions about the work which he will answer. If you are on Twitter you can ask him a question and join the discussion here.
Ai Weiwei, one of China’s leading Conceptual artists and an outspoken cultural and social commentator, has undertaken the eleventh commission in The Unilever Series.
Sunflower Seeds is made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique. However realistic they may seem, these life-sized sunflower seed husks are in fact intricately hand-crafted in porcelain. Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands.
Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape. Sunflower Seeds is a sensory and immersive installation, which we can touch, walk on and listen to as the seeds shift under our feet. The casual act of walking on the work’s surface contrasts with the immense effort of production and the precious nature of the material. Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today.