Ai Weiwei - VM - Wilma Wagenaar
Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds
The Strength of the Collective
by Wilma Wagenaar
In the autumn of 2012 a tapestry of sunflower seeds by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei could be seen in the Museum De Pont in Tilburg, the Netherlands. It was only a fragment of the hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds that could be viewed in 2010 in the Tate Modern in London, UK. Or rather, that could be experienced! This work makes a deep impression, an impression that transcends mere perception.
The work moves us, this unimaginable quantity of hand-painted porcelain seeds that are all different, not two of which are the same. One hundred million individual artworks that form one grand whole. It conjures up an echo of the Creation: cosmic in scope and yet formed and loved down to the smallest detail. These sunflower seeds are the result of years of work by 1600 inhabitants of Jingdezhen (Jiangxi), a Chinese city southwest of Shanghai that is the birthplace of porcelain, where the tradition of fine ceramics lives on.
In my view Ai Weiwei comes forth in this work as a very Asian artist. The form is Western, as it is a conceptual work in the footsteps of Marcel Duchamp and his use of daily objects. But its spirit is Asian: the strength of the collective and the interest of the whole are the basic values here. They are also fundamental to many of Ai’s other works, such as his collage of cooperating bicycles.
This is the very opposite to the way society develops itself in the West at the moment, where everyone is king on their own square meter, with their own declaration of independence and their own profile in cyberspace. Kishore Mahbubani, a former ambassador to the UN and author of Can Asians Think, deservedly wrote some years ago: ‘The West will be outstripped by Asia, because Asians put the common interest above that of the individual.’ The daily news proves him right.
For me this works calls for a U- turn in our Western thinking. It is better to let go of the delusion of independence and individualism and turn back to a life in which the community plays an important role and each individual has its own place. Unity in diversity, each human being is different and together we form a community to the benefit of all and to the joy of our Creator.
Parallels to the body of Christ Saint Paul writes about are close at hand. For this reason Sunflower Seeds, though not specifically Christian, is a work that can move and inspire us.
Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds, 2010, 100.000.000 seeds of porcelain. After 2010 the original hundred million sunflower seeds were shown in smaller quantities in exhibitions around the world. In 2012 the Tate Gallery in London, UK bought eight million seeds.
Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) is one of the most well-known contemporary Chinese artists. He is active in sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, film, and social, political and cultural criticism. Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese government's stance on democracy and human rights. In 2012 he was detained by the Chinese authorities for 3 months and at the moment he is kept under house arrest. For more information about his art and life, click here.
Wilma Wagenaar is a visual art teacher and an artist. She organizes painting retreats in monasteries in the Netherlands and Belgium and lectures about art and its relationship to developments in society. For more information see www.wilmawagenaar.nl
ArtWay Visual Meditation April 21, 2013