Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds website launched
“I am glad I experienced the poetry of Sunflower Seeds first, with all its subtle nuances, before the wall-texts with their crushing insistence on statistics,” wrote the Guardian’s art critic Laura Cumming in 2010. “Art – particularly this art, so open to all interpretations – cannot be read like data.”
Her comment here is just one of many that universally praised Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds installation at Tate Modern three years ago. It was then as it is today viewed as one of the most original, complicated and daring works of contemporary art in recent times, so simple in its execution yet equally dense in its scope.
Its silent yet vociferous critique is embedded in each one of the 100 million hand-painted porcelain seeds, every one of them a story, every one of them a unique creation. It will be judged by history to be era defining, one of the most important works ever perhaps.
While there is no singular meaning of this dramatic work, it embodies key narratives that run through much of Weiwei’s art, namely the issues he has with his homeland. Socially, culturally, politically and economically, China is a paradoxical land that has far to go in terms of gaining any semblance of integrity.
They also reference nourishment for they are a common street snack; they also evoke difficult memories of the past, namely the hardships felt by those during the Cultural Revolution; and the absurdity of how 1,600 artisans in Jingdenzhen were hired to make the work possible.
“Ai Weiwei has taken the lesson of Duchamp’s readymade and Warhol’s multiples and turned them into a lesson in Chinese history and western modernisation, and the price individuals in China pay for that,” the Guardian’s art critic Adrian Searle said in 2010.
“Every unique seed is homogenised into a sifting mass. Most contemporary Chinese art is a product made for western consumption, just as willow-pattern plates or porcelain vases were shipped out in huge quantities for the western market.”
It can therefore be taken as a damning indictment of how the Enlightenment in the west has failed to live up to its philosophical ideals and in some ways, is responsible for the way China has evolved and where it is heading.
The discourse into Sunflower Seeds is expansive, which is why the creation of an online resource such as www.aiweiweiseeds.com is welcome. Developed by the Faurschou Foundation in collaboration with Ai Weiwei Studio, the website is a fantastic repository of texts, photos, and videos of the installation.
It also includes a bibliography and links to reviews of the work, allowing scholars, art lovers and creative individuals to explore in depth all the various interpretations and opinions of critics and influential people.
Its value, as a press release outlines, is significant: “No other work of contemporary art has raised the question of the relation between the mass and the individual, in all its ethical, spiritual and political implications, as profoundly as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has done with this large sculpture.”
Cadogan Tate has state-of the art storage facilities all over the world.