Field – The City – Research – Ai Weiwei

Considering I am looking at making a piece of work which consists of many small objects which can be played with or stolen, it would be foolish of me not to look at the well known instillation by Ai Weiwei in the Tate Modern turbine hall 2010. This piece “Sunflower seeds” was part of “The Unilever Series” , and consisted of literally millions of hand sculpted porcelain sunflower seeds which covered the floor of the turbine hall in a thick layer. The vast amount of seeds represents the population of china, with porcelain being a material synonymous with china, and the seeds were made by chinese craftsmen and women

the unilever series  ai weiwei sunflower seeds  (1)

Visitors were initially able to walk over the sunflower seeds, but this had to be stopped as walking on them created porcelain dust which is damaging to the lungs. Not only this, but the sunflower seeds were being stolen by the visitors, with people not just taking one or two but filling their pockets and taking them home. Because of this, when I visited the Tate Modern it was just a small pile (small in comparison to what it was previously) in one of the rooms, fenced off and with a security guard preventing anybody from taking them. This is disappointing, because as with Clare Twomey’s “Trophy” I also very much see these as desirable objects that I also want to own. However, I’m not sure if these are desirable because of the nature of the objects, or because they are part of a larger piece of work and so by taking some home you become part of that piece and part of that experience. People might not feel the same about my work because they are not being placed in a gallery, so there isn’t the significance of knowing you are involved in a documented piece of artwork, and people on the street (who aren’t visiting and don’t visit galleries) might not even be interested in that. Does that mean that my marbles aren’t going to be desirable to the public? I hope that the appeal of playing with the marble itself is enough, but people don’t often play with marbles any more. Both Clare Twomey’s “Trophy” and Ai Weiwei’s “Sunflower Seeds” are purely decorative as objects, without any particular function or interactivity, and I’m not sure that marbles will hold up in the same light as decorative objects. But then again, maybe it’s a good thing that they aren’t wholly decorative, as their main function is to be interacted with and being stolen is a secondary thought that comes after that.

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