Thursday, February 23, 2012

Daily Double: Little World Views

During my visit to London in November, I saw Ai Wei Wei's Sunflower Seeds...or at least a part that was left of it at that time.  An impressive piece, it was intended (and, in fact, began) as an interactive piece but there were health concerns for the dust resulting from crushed porcelain.  I only saw what was left of it and it still made an impact.

More here about Ai Wei Wei and his Sunflower Seeds:

Sunflower seeds are a common street snack in China.  For the artist, they are linked to memories of the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.  While individuals were denied personal freedom, propaganda images depicted Chairman Mao as the sun with the mass of people as sunflowers turning towards him.  However, Ai remembers the sharing of sunflower seeds as a gesture of human compassion, an opportunity for pleasure, friendship and kindness during difficult times.

Ai's decision to make the seeds from porcelain reflects its status as one of China's most prized exports.  Each seed was hand-painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in Jingdezhen, a city famed for its production of Imperial ceramics.  This combination of mass production and traditional craftsmanship invites us to look more closely at the 'Made in China' phenomenon, and the geopolitics of cultural and economic exchange.

Sunflower Seeds is a variation on Marcel Duchamp's idea of the readymade - an everyday object selected by the artist and designated as a work of art.  'Duchamp showed me other possibilities, i.e. that art can be a way of life', Ai has said.  'The freedom of mind one develops through thinking is much more important than the form of expression.'  He paid homage in an earlier work by bending a wire coat hanger into the outline of Duchamp's face, and photographed it piled with sunflower seeds.

Ai Wei Wei was born in 1957 in Beijing, China, where he lives and works.

Juliet Bingham, Curator, Tate Modern:
"Ai Weiwei's Unilever Series commission, Sunflower Seeds, is a beautiful, poignant and thought-provoking sculpture. The thinking behind the work lies in far more than just the idea of walking on it. The precious nature of the material, the effort of production and the narrative and personal content create a powerful commentary on the human condition. Sunflower Seeds is a vast sculpture that visitors can contemplate at close range on Level 1 or look upon from the Turbine Hall bridge above. Each piece is a part of the whole, a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses. The work continues to pose challenging questions: What does it mean to be an individual in today's society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together? What do our increasing desires, materialism and number mean for society, the environment and the future?" remembering that we're really all in this together,


déjà pseu said...

Thanks for sharing this. I love reading about the process and thoughts behind the art!

Ann Knickerbocker said...

love this, and the artist's comment that "art can be a way of life." The idea of hand-made porcelain sunflower seeds? Who would think of that? How terrific that you were able to see it...

Anonymous said...

Interesting... at what point do you think it goes from someone who is making an individual piece of art to something that is mass produced?


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