In 2010, Ai Weiwei was commissioned by the Tate Modern to present an artwork in its iconic Turbine Hall. Ai exhibited “Sunflower Seeds,” an installation consisting of 100 million porcelain seeds. Each seed was individually hand-painted and fired by artisans from Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of China.
Video edited by:
I have a totalitarian regime. It is my readymade.
- Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist (b. 1957)
Sunflower Seeds, 2010
Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds is made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique. However realistic they may seem, these life-sized sunflower seed husks are in fact intricately hand-crafted in porcelain.
Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape.
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.