I had the chance to check out a documentary called AI WEIWEI: SUNFLOWER SEEDS at the Canadian Art Foundation’s Reel Artists Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday. Ai Wei Wei is a Chinese artist who hand-crafted 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds for an installation that filled the floors of Turbine Hall and London’s Tate Modern. At first when I found out that the artist did not create each seed himself, I was a bit disppointed. But after listening to him talk about why he employed the entire village of Jingdezhen, I was once again amazed. Apparently, Jingdezhen, was once a town of blooming cultural production (pottery specifically) and everyone in town was employed in this trade however, until Ai Weiwei’s recent project, production had been dwindling. The artist specifically chose sunflower seeds because this flower was often depicted in propaganda images of Chairman Mao – but most importantly, these seeds were a snack that was shared in tough times thereby representing a symbol of friendship and compassion.
Unfortunately, we learned during the Q&A that the installation had to be roped off after the 5th day at the Tate. The “seeds” were kicking up too much hazardous dust from all the people walking on the art. Also, word has it that Ai Weiwei’s studio was also demolished by the government and that he is currently under house arrest. Apparently, the government had asked him not to build his production studio in the location he wanted to, but he did so anyways.
As curator Nancy Campbell said, this installation truly brings home the true meaning of “It takes a village”…in this case, it was the village of Jingdezhen.