Tuesday, 16 November 2010

ai weiwei at the tate modern

on a recent trip back home to london i went to the tate modern originally to see the gauguin exhibition but sadly it was full so i coundn't get tickets. instead i saw ai weiwei's exhibit in the turbine hall entitled 'sunflower seeds'.
the exhibtion  consists of a large part of the turbine hall covered in sunflower seeds made from porcelain. ai weiwei recalls sharing sunflower seeds on the street as a snack with friends but the use of these seeds also holds importance politically. chairman mao was often depicted as the sun with all the people shown as sunflowers turning towards their leader. despite the oppression under chairman mao weiwei says on the tate website that he remembers sunflowers seeds more for the friendship side and a showing of human compassion. the use of porcelain is also significant for this piece, porcelain is one of china's leading exports and all the seeds were created in jingdezhen, a city famous for its imperial porcelain. this project bought the community together, all together there are about 30 stages to porcelain production.
the questions and thoughts that came to me ran at different levels. firstly and most obvioiusly the thought of what you see is not what you see but then after learning about the significance of sunflower seeds and the porcelain i started to think of being unique (each sunflower seed seems the same but are actually all unique and handmade) and individuality. weiwei asks the veiwers what it means to be an individual and are we powerless unless we work together?

i really loved this exhibtion becuase of the simplicity in conveying powerful messages. at first glance all you see are sunflower seeds but you go a bit deeper and reveal the story behind this and the significance not just to the artist but to the culture he grew up in. i also liked the interactive aspect of this exhibition, people can post questions to ai weiwei or answer questions from him making a community feeling about the art. originally the artwork was meant to be walked upon and handled  but due to health and safety this couldn't go ahead. although i feel it would have been better to be 'part of the artwork' i still feel the message he is trying to convey comes across.


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