>Review ‘Sunflower Seeds’ by Ai Weiwei at Tate Modern


‘Sunflower Seeds’ is an installation by Ai Weiwei, and is the next in the series of Unilver commissions that has brought Tate goers the Black Box, amongst many other things. 

This latest piece sees the Chinese artist present millions of porcelain sunflower seeds. Each seed was hand painted by helpers that ranged from an elderly lady in her family home, to a young girl who was paid to help out. Much of this information, such as the significance of sunflowers in the propaganda photos of Chairman Mao, and the tradition of working together in a family home, is detailed in an interesting film that runs next to the installation. 

The level of human endeavour required to produce this piece is striking. The viewer is greeted by an almost endless see of grey made up of the individual structures. According to the artist, the more skilful painters could complete a seed in three brush strokes, while the lesser skilled took four or five. When looking at the work it is hard not to think of the mass produced items we in the West receive from China, many as redundant as the porcelain sunflower seeds, and what the human and social cost of that is to China.

It is disappointing that due to fears of the dust coming from the porcelain visitors can no longer walk around the installation, but can only look at it. There is now a sense of disconnect with what was designed to be a very tactile piece. However, the sheer scale of the piece is overwhelming, absorbing, and surprisingly moving, and makes ‘Sunflower Seeds’ essential viewing. 

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