Art, Process

Ai Weiwei at Tate Modern

A business trip to London. Lucy and I got the chance to see some art too. We spent the afternoon in the Tate Modern, after hearing much hype about the Ai Weiwei Sunflower installation in the Turbine Hall.

“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.”

This artwork satisfied me – my love of repetition, of process. The muted colors of the landscape and the understated accumulation – what I love most is when a huge amount of time is spent on something, but that’s not realised – these look like real sunflowers, nothing special, but it’s within the process that I am impressed. The 15 minute film which accompanied the installation was more interesting to me than the completed piece.

It’s very interesting to me that Weiwei was made to alter the artwork; up until 22nd October, visitors were invited to walk on the sculpture. Health and safety regulations came into play and a barrier was put up – the porcelain dust was too harmful when breathed in. It’s this  kind of ‘mistake’ and alteration to a life’s work which is interesting – how does Weiwei feel about this huge alteration. The whole work is changed – the viewer cannot interact or have an encounter with this tactile work. Something is lost. Why didn’t he think about the issues around H&S before?  Tate changed the work from an invitation to walk upon, to stating this:

“Sunflower Seeds is a total work made up of millions of individual pieces which together from a single unique surface. In order to maintain and preserve the landscape as a whole, Tate asks visitors not to touch or remove the sunflower seeds.”

You could post video questions to Weiwei, he selects some to answer. Lucy and I asked him this: