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Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds

Posted by Will Hudson,

The Tate Modern have always challenged people’s perceptions of art throughout The Unilever Series (now in it’s eleventh year), from Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project to Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth they have always got people talking and the latest installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is no exception. In his latest work 1000 square metres of The Turbine Hall’s floor are now covered in more than 100 million individually handmade replica sunflower seeds.

Visitors are invited to walk across the surface of the work and discover that each seed is in fact a unique porcelain replica, and over the course of two years each of over 100 million seeds were individually handmade and have been specially produced for the commission.

“For Ai, sunflower seeds – a common Chinese street snack shared by friends – carry personal associations from the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). While individuals were stripped of personal freedom, propaganda images depicted Chairman Mao as the sun and the mass of people as sunflowers turning towards him. Yet Ai remembers the sharing of sunflower seeds as a gesture of human compassion, providing a space for pleasure, friendship and kindness during a time of extreme poverty, repression and uncertainty. There are also contemporary resonances in the work, with its combination of mass production and traditional craftsmanship inviting us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geopolitics of cultural and economic exchange.”

Sunflower Seeds runs 12 October to 2 May 2011
Tate Modern, Turbine Hall

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Posted by Will Hudson

Will founded It’s Nice That in 2007 and is now director of the company. Once one of the main contributors to the site he has stepped back from writing as the business has expanded. He is a regular guest on the Studio Audience podcast.