sunflower seeds

Ai Weiwei's sunflower seeds...

Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds is currently showing at Tate Modern. A Chinese artist who has suffered severely for being politically outspoken, and who was the artistic consultant on the glorious Bird’s Nest Stadium at the recent Olympic Games, Ai Weiwei has produced a work that says much about China today and in the past. Consisting of 100 million sunflower seeds handmade from porcelain, fired at a high temperature, handpainted, then fired again. According to him:

“Seeds are a household object in China and a revolutionary symbol at the same time”

Conceptually (I’ve not actually seen it), I read in it several layers of meaning.

Porcelain, an industrial and artistic product with which China supplied the rest of the world, links China’s past with today when she has become the workshop of the world.

I am reminded of the Terracotta Army – another example of Chinese labour being lavished to produce something beyond the capacity of almost any other people (excepting perhaps the ancient Egyptians). These are at the same time displays of what humans can achieve if bent to a single goal, but also the dehumanization involved: when we look at the Terracotta Army we are thinking of the brilliant but megalomaniacal First Emperor. Similarly with another of his megaworks – the Great Wall. With the rise of Mao, once again it is an individual who looks out at us, while his people, identical and beneath notice, lie beneath his feet.

4 thoughts on “sunflower seeds

  1. Reminds me of the true horror that is our betrayal by the ruling classes – time and again we are told of the benfits some new, labour-saving technology will bring us, and time and again this new technology is used only to bring more riches to the, already, obscenely rich, whilst we are still expected to burn the precious hours of our lives simply to fund retirement into poverty. Will we ever reach the point where an art installation such as this transforms from a million-man-hour representation of human slavery into a one-machine-hour celebration of our transcendant use of technology. Iain Banks’ ‘Culture’ will forever be an ideal that our leaders will shun 🙁

    1. don’t you think that we conspire in our own enslavement? If we weren’t so eager to submerge ourselves in consumption, then the pressure to run in the mouse-wheels provided us by capitalism would be considerably lessened…

      as for Banks’ ‘Culture’ – it is all about wish fulfilment and, critically, presupposes unlimited resources. Isn’t that actually the very model and dream of the culture that we live in; the same culture that you rail against…?

  2. What it reminded me – the beach of turquoise and jade pebbles – was the need for utter immersion; it reminded me of your past in videogames, where most games excell at immersion due to small details, not big stuff. The need the Chosen had for utter coherence to maintain their status…

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