Saturday, October 23, 2010
The Church of Ai Weiwei
It is almost excrutiating to watch the 15 minute film documenting the time and effort that went into making Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds now that the way they were intended to be experienced, the whole idea of the installation, is no longer possible.
Each sunflower seed is individually crafted by 1600 porcelain specialists working in the village of Jingdezhen, China over 2 years. These 100 million unique pieces form the landscape which has taken shape on the floor of the turbine hall.
The installation has many intended messages about morality, image, economy, labour, politics, as he describes in the documentary accompanying the installation; images of chairman Mao always included sunflower seeds as they were meant to represent his followers; Ai Weiwei has created many followers each individual but together, very powerful.
"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?" Juliet Bingham, Curator at Tate Modern writes.
On visiting the installation it seems to have taken on an additional meaning. The atmosphere was one of reverie and the visitors stopped at the rope to look out across the mass of seeds in contemplative, as if mourning what could have been.
The location of the seeds infront of the main turbine hall windows gave the impression of an altar, which people looked up to. People would kneel down to take photographs of the seeds as close as they could get to them on the floor as if kneeling to pray. I stood and watched for a while; unconnected people would walk up to the rope, stand for a few minutes, then kneel down.
The experience was like being at a place of pilgrimage, except not for religion, but to lost art. I felt as if I wanted to light a candle. I do wonder what it would have been like if people could walk on it, what would it have sounded like? Would people be talking more, would it be a more social experience? Instead of the internal contemplation people seemed to be doing. Either way it is an artwork I would says needs seeing to believe in, even if you can't take a seed home with you.
Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds is open (up to the rope only) until the 2nd May 2011 at Tate Modern, Southbank. In writing for The Independent, Charles Darwent looks into the atmosphere and meanings of the installation into more detail. Images taken using my own iPhone.