Staring at art from the Tate's collection and thinking about it

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Sunflower Seeds - Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, 2010, porcelain, overall display dimensions variable, Tate.

This is the work that Ai Weiwei produced specially for display in the Tate Turbine Hall.  Many, many sunflower seeds, hand-crafted out of porcelain, none of them the same.  The idea was that you could walk about in them and pick them up, but unfortunately it was discovered that coming in to contact with them would turn some visitors into giant balloons and zoom around the Turbine Hall like Augustus Gloop.  It was a health and safety nightmare.  The display went ahead, with the field of seeds cordoned off.  Everyone put a brave face on it, but it was a massive let-down which raised the question, if an interactive work of art can't be interacted with, exactly how much art is left?
   This seed-dune arrangement is arguably more satisfying than the field, as you wouldn't really want to dive into it unless you liked the idea of death by porcelain sunflower seed suffocation, and allows for the inspection of a greater number of seeds without having to pick them up.  It is, however, a less comforting vision of the individual amongst the mass.  Here the unique seeds are on top of each other rather than all nicely laid out.  You wouldn't want to be the seed on the bottom of the pile.

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