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Posts Tagged ‘Remembering’

Ai Weiwei fills Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with 100 million ceramic sunflower seeds

Posted by artradar on October 19, 2010


AI WEIWEI CHINESE ART TATE MODERN UNILEVER SERIES INSTALLATION SCULPTURE

Ai Weiwei – artist, architectural designer, curator and social commentator – unveils his work for the prestigious Unilever Series for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall – Britain’s largest contemporary art commission. It features the first living artist from the Asia-Pacific region to be commissioned for this series. Guest poster Pippa Dennis provides an in-depth look into the production and exhibition of this breakthrough installation.

Sunflower Seeds by Ai Weiwei is a sensory and immersive installation which sees the vast 1000 square meters of the Turbine Hall covered with over a hundred million porcelain replicas of sunflower seeds, ten centimetres deep and weighing in at 150 metric tons. Each seed is individually made, intricately handcrafted by over 1600 expert artisans brought together specifically for this project in the city of Jingdezhen, home to porcelain manufacturers since the days of Imperial China.

Each ceramic seed goes through a process of twenty to thirty steps in its production, they are molded, fired and ultimately hand painted. The artist jokes that he made a few himself, but his contribution was hastily rejected by the artisans in charge, such was the level of craftsmanship involved.

Ai Weiwei. Image courtesy of Tate Modern.

“Ai Weiwei has created a truly unique experience for visitors to this year’s Unilever Series. The sense of scale and quality of craftsmanship achieved in each perfectly formed sunflower seed is astonishing. In trying to comprehend their sheer quantity, Ai provokes a multitude of ideas, from the way we perceived number and value, to the way we engage with society at large.” Sheena Wagstaff, Chief Curator, Tate Modern

Initially, the audience was invited to touch, walk on and listen to the seeds shifting beneath their feet. Image courtesy of Pippa Dennis.

The effect is a highly simplistic and subtle creation, yet complex and powerful in its depth and potential for interpretation. The sunflower itself is a profoundly symbolic object for Chinese people. A common street snack shared by friends and enjoyed by everyone, but requiring a certain skill in breaking the husk and releasing the seed in a singular movement of the teeth and tongue. For the artist it has more personal significance as he remembers it as a staple during the Mao years when material goods were virtually non-existent and food was in short supply. At this time he remembers the sharing of them as a gesture of human kindness and generosity in a period of extreme poverty and uncertainty. It was also a symbol adopted by the Communists. Propaganda pictures from this era depict Mao as the sun, and the mass of people as sunflowers turning towards him.

Ai has used the sunflower seed repeatedly in his work since his period in New York, such as Hanging Man (1983), and here this simple motif works to examine the concepts of mass production and traditional craftsmanship, an important aspect of Ai Weiwei’s work. The phenomena of “Made in China” and the association that accompanies it – repetition, copying and mass production – are all themes deeply rooted in Chinese tradition whilst recently they have taken on a new significance in the current geopolitics of cultural and economic exchange.

Ai Weiwei believes the role of the artist is not only about raising issues but transforming them. Here the seeds also raise questions about ourselves and society, what does it mean to be an individual in China, an individual in this world? Individualism in China was heavily criticized during the Mao years but now with its radical economic and urban transformation China’s attitude is starting to shift, particularly amongst the younger generations. Ai has commented “From a very young age, I started to sense that an individual has to set an example in society. Your own acts and behaviour tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be”.

Each seed is individually made, intricately handcrafted by over 1600 expert artisans brought together specifically for this project... and goes through a process of twenty to thirty steps in its production, they are molded, fired and ultimately hand painted. Image courtesy of the Londonist.com.

Each seed is individually made, intricately handcrafted by over 1600 expert artisans brought together specifically for this project ... and goes through a process of twenty to thirty steps in its production, they are molded, fired and ultimately hand painted. Image courtesy of Londonist.com.

Ai Weiwei’s work has always had an element of political and social commentary and he has not only become an important contemporary artist on the international stage but also a leader of social thought in China and the world. He comments, “My art may be political but I never intended to create political art”. However in recent years these themes, particularly for public commissions, have become increasingly prominent and in interviews and on his blog he openly criticises the Chinese government, calling for freedom of press and speaking up for human rights. He has always said his life is ready-made, “I’m my own ready-made”, acknowledging his most significant influence, Marcel Duchamp.

Life for the artist is art, politics and exchange. The act of individuals voicing their opinions and communicating with one another is of great importance to him and his practice. In Remembering (2009), he harnessed the powers of the Internet to recruit two hundred local and regional participants in the research and archiving of the names of the children who lost their lives in the Sichuan earthquake. This project resulted in five thousand names being collated and recorded and is considered the first civil rights activity in China.

In Sunflower Seeds, he harnesses the powers of social media to take his “social sculpture” to another level. Combining online and video technologies, this commission has enabled the artist to engage in a global dialogue about the work. Below the Turbine Hall, Ai Weiwei has installed a series of video booths to record questions and comments to the artist, whilst outside the Turbine Hall the audience can connect with the artist via Twitter. One to One with the Artist also marks a milestone in the Tate’s use of new media technology and the Internet, transforming the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern into a hub of global conversation.

Marc Sands, director of audiences and media at the Tate said,

“In recent years, Tate Media has found a variety of new ways for visitors to engage with the Unilever Series commissions, from iPhone apps to interactive websites. Ai Weiwei’s own passion for new communication technologies has made it possible for us to develop something really special this year, which we hope people around the world will enjoy”.

'Sunflower Seeds' (2010). Image courtesy of Tate Modern.

'Sunflower Seeds' (2010). Image courtesy of Tate Modern.

Originally, the audience was invited to touch, walk on and listen to the seeds shifting beneath their feet. However, after a very enthusiastic response from visitors, staff noticed a fine dust rising off of the seeds, and after it was confirmed that the dust “could be damaging to health following repeated inhalation over a long period of time”, the Tate was forced to cordon the sculpture off. Visitors are still invited to view the installation “from a walkway above the hall.”

The immediate critical response has been extremely positive. The Guardian’s Adrian Searle comments, “I love it. It is a world in a hundred million objects. It is also a singular statement, in a familiar, minimal form – like Wolfgang Laib’s floor-bound rectangles of yellow pollen, Richard Long’s stones or Antony Gormley’s fields of thousands of little humanoids. Sunflower Seeds, however, is better. It is audacious, subtle, unexpected but inevitable. It is a work of great simplicity and complexity. Sunflower Seeds refers to everyday life, to hunger (the seeds were a reliable staple during the Cultural Revolution), to collective work, and to an enduring Chinese industry.”

The Telegraph’s Richard Dorment observes, “For the 11th commission in the Unilever Series, Tate Modern has offered the poisoned chalice to the Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei – and he’s come up with a masterpiece.”

With the seeming success of this event and Tate Modern’s curatorial commitment to show art from new territories, we can look forward to more opportunities to see art from the Asia-Pacific region in such significant spaces as London’s premier contemporary art museum.

About Pippa Dennis

Pippa Dennis is a Chinese art specialist based in London. She has an MA in Art History and spent ten years making documentaries for the BBC before living in Shanghai and working at Eastlink Gallery. She subsequently set up Asia Art Forum, an educational platform to promote the understanding of Asian contemporary art.

HH/KN

 

Related Topics: Chinese artists, installation art, participatory art, political art, London art

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Ai Weiwei and Vito Acconci wrap up major collaboration at Hong Kong’s Para/Site art space

Posted by artradar on July 6, 2010


AI WEIWEI CHINESE ART HONG KONG ART SPACES ARTIST COLLABORATIONS

With a new project, Chinese art all-rounder Ai Weiwei, in cooperation with American artist Vito Acconci, has brought fresh dialogues between the East and West to Hong Kong, a monumental event in Ai Weiwei’s career and for the Hong Kong and the Asian art scenes.

installation view at para:site art space

A view of "Acconci Studio + Ai Weiwei: A Collaborative Project", an installation work recently shown at Para/Site art space in Hong Kong.

Acconci Studio + Ai Weiwei: A Collaborative Project“, held at Hong Kong’s Para/Site art space, has provided the opportunity for Ai Weiwei to meet and work for the first time with Vito Acconci, an American artist whom he admires.

Vito Acconci

Like Ai Weiwei, Acconci shifts between performance art and architecture, and has gained a global reputation for his bold art stunts.

In his 1971 performance entitled Seedbed, Acconci engaged his visitors in restrained sexual intimacy by masturbating continuously under a wooden platform in a gallery.

recent article published on Time Out Hong Kong describes the artist as someone who “works not as a singular artist but as an architect and ‘collaborator’ for Acconci Studios. The controversial questioning of his earlier career has been replaced with an intellegent whimsy in design. Structures roam, twist and fold within their sites. Each edifice constantly contemplating the function of space and the understanding of linear time and form.”

Ai Weiwei

Having been involved in design, architecture, curating, writing and publishing, Ai Weiwei is one of the most controversial contemporary artists of his generation. Asked to describe his art by the Financial Times, Ai Weiwei gave the following reply:

“That question makes me almost speechless, because I wonder how much do I know about it, even though it was me that did it? What part is conscious and is that consciousness important? And what part has come out only because of the public’s sentiment? And is that important?”

An article recently published in the Guardian noted that Ai Weiwei’s work “has become overtly political, blurring the boundary between art and activism”, referring to the artist’s Remembering installation. This artwork was comprised of 9,000 children’s backpacks, in reminiscence of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake casualties.

In recollection of Ai Weiwei’s past performances, an article published in the Financial Times discussed both Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995), “a triptych of photographs in which he is seen casually dropping a 2,000-year-old vase to shatter on the ground”, and an exhibition of 46 avant-garde artists including himself called Fuck Off (2000), which was closed down by authorities. The artwork’s Chinese title was the milder Uncooperative Approach. Despite his strong defiance against the Beijing government, Ai Weiwei was the designer of the Bird’s Nest at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

vito acconci and ai weiwei discussing their collaboration

Vito Acconci and Ai Weiwei in discussion regarding "Acconti Studio + Ai Weiwei: A Collaborative Project", an installation work recently shown at Para/Site art space in Hong Kong.

Acconci Studio + Ai Weiwei: A Collaborative Project

For “Acconci Studio + Ai Weiwei: A Collaborative Project”, Para/Site was transformed into a three-dimensional grid where Ai and Acconci developed their work “in constant mutation and accumulation during the two months that it [was] open to the public.” The end product was an unorthodox, multilayered installation with an accumulated collection of new works, models, drawings and various materials that were accumulated as a result of ongoing discussions between Ai Weiwei, Vito Acconci and their studios.

“The collaboration with Vito Acconci at Para/Site art space is an effort in figuring out ways to collaborate, ways [of] defining the actual process of working together. Through the development of a gallery project we are to think [of] the formation of a city.” Ai Weiwei (as quoted on the Para/Site website)

“I would never have imagined that today I could become active in art and have a chance to meet Vito…I was a young man just come from China. I was trying to be part of art history, but then it was impossible…Neither of us have any nostalgia towards the past, but we are both ready to think about today. That is our common ground.” Ai Weiwei (as quoted by the Financial Times)

The project is not just an interesting addition to Ai’s collection of stunning works. As Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya, the Executive Director and Curator of Para/Site, told Art Radar Asia, it has also created a platform for dialogues about the arts in Hong Kong and, on a larger scale, throughout Asia.

“This project reflects the complex production system that surrounds the creation of new works of art/projects in the 21st century. Dialogue is an important element of this project, which is as much about exchange of ideas as it is about production. Until now most exhibitions in this part of Asia focused on exhibiting a relevant Western artist or showcasing a leading artist from Asia. But the dialogue between what is happening in different parts of the world is lacking. This conversation is conducive to new ideas and it opens new paths of research. Then, there is also the challenge to put together practitioners from different generations, that also operate within different studio cultures. It proves Hong Kong can be a platform for leading international projects, and positions this city as a destination for art lovers, and not just a stopover. It is also a picture of what Hong Kong could be in the international scene if we had some rigorous planning and more opportunities to engage with current discourses around the world. This project is about taking curatorial risks, to start a journey without knowing the final destination.”

According to the art space’s website, Para/Site was chosen as the base for the project because of its autonomy from large organisations, enabling it to accommodate the innovativeness of the project.

CBKM/KN

Related topics: Ai Weiwei, collaborative art, venues – Hong Kong, Chinese artists

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