Ai Wei Wei is a difficult artist for me, and I am only just beginning to figure out why, because when it comes down to it, I like his work. And I really, really like the Sunflower Seeds installation.
To start, why this is hard for me: As best I can tell, and I may be wrong, there is a deeply embedded ridge of compliance and obedience in my psyche, which causes me to resist/be flummoxed by drama and confrontation in and of themselves, and confrontational/controversial art as well. (This is in reference to the Dropping the Urn performance piece.) The underbelly of that is that I am also perversely drawn to it, moth to a flame. It would have horrified me as a kid to damage someone’s plastic Wal-Mart bowl, much less as an artist, to destroy a (replica?) ancient artifact. There is some disjunct in my mind when art destroys something… But it’s all a cycle of life and death, right? So to burst the chains of thousands of years of deeply ingrained culture makes sense in a larger view, I suppose, even if it seems somewhat sacrilegious in the moment. That is a hard idea for me to hold, but I’ll go with it, and learn to understand Ai Wei Wei’s work from the basis of loving Sunflower Seeds.
This installation consists of 100 million handmade, handpainted, and fired porcelain sunflower seeds. Many artisans at Jingdezhen created these seeds for Ai Wei Wei, and the installation filled a hall of the Tate Modern in London. My interest in repetition, interaction, and just the sheer quantity of work, draws me to this piece. This sea of individuals is also a little overwhelming in that we are all in a sea of individuals, and while we may be really important in our own little space, where do we fit in among, say, 100 million others?