Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern Turbine Hall, London

Ai Weiwei is one of the most popular Chinese artists of our time. For Tate Modern’s The Unilever Series he has been commissioned to produce a new work. The sculptural installation titled Sunflower Seeds looks rather minimalistic at first sight. What seems to be an ocean of sunflower seed husks, is in reality a flat landscape of over 100 million individually handmade porcelain replicas of the seed.

Visitors are invited to walk across the surface of the work. It’s a sensory and immersive installation, which visitors can touch, walk on and listen to as the seeds shift beneath their feet.

Although they look identical from a distance, every seed is different and handcrafted by skilled artisans. Sunflower Seeds is the largest work Ai Weiwei has made using porcelain, one of China’s most prized exports. Previously Ai has created imitation fruit, clothes and vases. Sunflower Seeds weighs over 150 metric tons, covering 1000 square meters of the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing, China, where he lives and works. He has exhibited internationally, including recent solo shows at Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, and Haus der Kunst, Munich. He has participated in the Sao Paulo Biennial, Documenta 12 in Kassel, and Tate Liverpool. Ai Weiwei also founded the design company Fake Design and co-founded the China Art Archives and Warehouse in Beijing.

The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei is curated by Juliet Bingham, Curator, Tate Modern, supported by Kasia Redzisz, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The Unilever Series of annual commissions was launched in 2000 when Tate Modern opened with Louise Bourgeois’s I Do, I Undo, I Redo. Since then, the following artists have created work specifically for the Turbine Hall: Juan Munoz, Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson, Bruce Nauman, Rachel Whiteread, Carsten Höller, Doris Salcedo, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and Miroslaw Balka.

Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern Turbine Hall, London / UK. Press View, October 11, 2010.

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Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape. Sunflower Seeds is a sensory and immersive installation, which we can touch, walk on and listen to as the seeds shift under our feet. The casual act of walking on the work’s surface contrasts with the immense effort of production and the precious nature of the material. Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today. (Excerpt from the press release).