Ai Weiwei’s “Sunflower Seeds Party”

Here is an excerpt from the insightful New Yorker article “AI WEIWEI AT HOME, IN ABSENTIA” by Evan Osnos,

“Ai’s cell phone rumbled and he answered the call. He smiled. Mary Boone, the gallery owner, was on the line. It was late at night in New York, but she wanted to tell him how his show was going. On the floor of her Chelsea space on West 24th Street, she had Ai’s hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds, three million of them, which had been crafted by ceramic artisans in the pottery town of Jingdezhen. (The show is open until February 4th.) They are part of an ocean of seeds, one hundred million in all, that he originally unveiled in a 2010 installation at the Tate Modern in London. At the Tate, they formed a vast gray swamp, filling the cavernous Turbine Hall, but in New York, after two eventful years, they have taken on a different meaning. They are arranged in a rectangle with severe, angled corners. In the Times, Roberta Smith wrote that the “unruly ocean has been downsized to something more like a reflecting pool. It also suggests a kind of memorial plinth, a monument to the palpable absence of Mr. Ai.”

As is often the case for Ai Weiwei, his work and his life have become hard to differentiate. The seeds have found their way into the tax case. “When the seeds began to show, people started to ask: Can we have some? I responded very casually, ‘Whoever wants some, just give me an address and I’ll send them to you.’ We received about a thousand requests. And, since then, it has become a kind of movement. We’ve sent out several hundred thousand. This is amazing. They call it the ‘Sunflower Seeds Party.’ The party can be read as a party or a Party. And young people love it. They say, ‘The girl at school I loved for so long, and I could never really speak to her, I made an earring out of a seed and gave it to her.’ Another one said, he gave it to his parents. One said the seed will be the first gift to my unborn kid. And someone else said, by the year two-thousand-and-something, the seeds will have life coming out of them. They call them seeds of freedom. It’s very interesting that people need something to carry their fantasy.”

Online, the seeds became a proxy for Ai himself. “They talk about seeds and it moved like a wave. They couldn’t talk about me and they couldn’t talk about the government, but when they talked about seeds, nobody could do anything about it, because they aren’t talking about anything—just sunflower seeds!””

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