Monday, 25 April 2011

Sunflower Seeds

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's installation Sunflower Seeds: a vast, grey seed-sea. There is an immediate reaction: is this about the significance, or insignificance of humanity? What can you achieve as just one simple seed, and is there any real meaning to individuality? The setting, the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern further multiplies the sense of scale: not only are you one seed in ten million, but even the ten million are tiny specks of dust within a vast machine.
I resisted the Philip Dick-inspired urge to create a "fake fake" by adding real sunflower seeds.
Not only are the seeds artificial, they are neither robotic nor sweat-shop produce but each one has been hand-crafted and painted by someone. That's awe-inspiring.
For Weiwei the sunflower seed has a particular meaning: sharing of this snack has been a form of street comradeship under an oppressive regime and from there it becomes a symbol of resistance. If proof of the significance of this work is needed: Weiwei remains a political prisoner in China.

UPDATE 23.6.11 BBC News reported today that Weiwei has been released by the Chinese authorities following a "confession" apparently relating to tax irregularities.

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