This website is devoted to Ai Weiwei's seminal artwork 'Sunflower Seeds'.
Ai Weiwei initially conceived 'Sunflower Seeds' for his Unilever Series commission at Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, opening in October 2010. Ai Weiwei's take on the large hall was simple and complex, poetic and disturbing at the same time: He filled the Turbine Hall with a thick layer of sunflower seeds handcrafted in porcelain, a total of 100.000.000 seeds, with a total weight of 150 tons.
With texts, photos, and videos, aiweiweiseeds.com gives a full overview of the versions and exhibition history of the 'Sunflower Seeds'. Bibliography and reviews from a multitude of influential media and critics help to offer a reference of the work to scholars, collectors and the public. Faurschou Foundation has made this site in collaboration with Ai Weiwei Studio and the involved institutions that have shown the remarkable piece in its various versions.
Ai Weiwei began the process of producing the porcelain seeds two and a half year in advance of the Tate Modern exhibition – and earlier and smaller editions of seeds have been exhibited before the opening there. Also from the Tate installation Ai Weiwei has afterwards created new and smaller versions, why the original version of 150 tons is now 100 tons.
Acclaimed as the “seeds of hope”, a work of “part prophecy, part threat”, an installation intriguingly “contemplative and barbed”, Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds has been exhibited in various versions at 12 galleries across 11 cities, 9 countries since 2009. As the institution hosting the inaugural exhibition of this work, Faurschou Foundation has had the honor to show 'Sunflower Seeds' three times in both its Beijing and Copenhagen spaces.
A work composed of ”particles”, 'Sunflower Seeds' appears in ever-changing forms in exhibitions. It is the ”heap of grain” at Magasin 3, the grey ”beach” at Tate Modern and the ”carpet” at Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo. It reached its peak in terms of amount and weight at Tate Modern in 2010 - 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds, weighing 150 tons, covered the 1,000-square-metre floor to a depth of 10cm at the Turbine Hall. Sheena Wagstaff, chief curator from Tate Modern, commented that the work combined “an epic sense of scale with an exquisite level of craftsmanship”.
It took more than 1,600 artisans in Jingdezhen (the town that once made the imperial porcelain for over a thousand years), two and a half years to manufacture this huge pile of ceramic husks out of the kaolin from local mountains. After a striking 30-step procedure, each seed, hand-painted and fired at 1,300 degrees, is unique and unpredictable. ”This is perhaps the most costly work among all artworks, both Chinese and Western,” Ai Weiwei said.
The layers of seeds, though simple in form, embody multiple meanings. The sunflower seed is a common street snack in China, an everyday object from the artist’s childhood. It evokes the memory of hardships and hunger during the Cultural Revolution, and the era of socialist planned economy with the collective worship of the ”sun” - Chairman Mao.
For Ai Weiwei, 'Sunflower Seeds' is one piece of art that is composed of 100 million pieces of art. As a singular tiny sculpture, every seed is submerged by a hundred million ones with subtle nuances, similar yet each unique, just as 1,600 workers in Jingdezhen performing repetitive duties; as 1.3 billion Chinese, silent in the crowd; as every fragmented individual in this digital era. Through a sunflower seed, Ai Weiwei triggers a Domino effect, enlarging the lengthy, complicated and exquisite process by 100 million times. Devoting unimaginable patience, time and energy, he brings into focus the significance of individuals, and the imposing strength when they gather together.
Like Ai Weiwei’s other works, 'Sunflower Seeds' is a work closely related to the society, politics and economy in China, and also a project that can be accomplished only in this country. It alludes to the globalization and mass production in China that caters to western consumerism, and to the deemed insignificant element at the bottom of the production chain - thousands of cheap labors, assembly lines in gigantic factories, and tedious procedures. Absurdly, 'Sunflower Seeds' provided work for 1,600 artisans in Jingdenzhen, a fact that is an ironic reflection of the social reality.
Employing diverse media and techniques, as well as dexterity, wit and humor, Ai Weiwei has been creating ”social sculptures” rooted in contemporary Chinese society. In 'Sunflower Seeds', we can also get a glimpse of the relationship between the individual and the collective implied in 'Fairytale' (2007), the adapt inheritance of traditional techniques in 'Through' (2007-08), the symbolic and metaphoric appliance of materials in 'World Map' (2006), and his influential outspoken publicity through the social network. Ai’s deft transforming of local resources into a both poetic and provocative statement of contemporary art intelligently and audaciously subverts the tradition and encourages the reform. 'Sunflower Seeds' expresses Ai Weiwei’s responsibility as an artist, “Seeds grow...The crowd will have its way, eventually.”
In the 1970’s and 1980’s Ai Weiwei was a protagonist in a dynamic avant-garde movement in China where a lot of activity saw its light on the Chinese art scene. Ai Weiwei’s career has steadily been gaining momentum in the past decades, not least due to his controversial exhibition “Fuck Off” in connection to the Shanghai Bienniale in 2000, his participation at Documenta 2007, his design of “Bird’s Nest”, the Olympic Stadium in Beijing, built in collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron, and his Sunflower Seeds for Unilever Series 2010 at Tate Modern. In 2010 Art Review listed Ai Weiwei as no. 1 on their Top 100 of most powerful people in the art world. There is no doubt that his 81 days of detention by the Chinese authorities in the spring of 2011 has put him in an even more important position - both inside and outside the art world - and inside and outside of China. Ai Weiwei is today one of the leading Chinese artists.
Faurschou Foundation is a privately funded art institution in Copenhagen and Beijing established by Luise and Jens Faurschou. For 27 years they have mounted exhibitions of internationally recognized artists both in Denmark and abroad. Over the years Luise and Jens Faurschou have acquired a substantial art collection and their ambition is to present highly esteemed contemporary art to the public – out of a belief in the potential of art to create meaning for the self-understanding and development of the individual as well as society. Both exhibition spaces are open to the public and free of charge.
For more information about Faurschou Foundation, please visit www.faurschou.com.