Friday, 15 October 2010

One in a Few Thousand: Ai Wei Wei's Sunflower Seeds

At the beginning of the week, I thought that a visit to the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern would be relegated to the realm of commonplace cultural experience. Thousands upon thousands of punters were set to sit, stroll, crunch, play, think, snooze, on the 100 million Sunflower Seeds carefully crafted for Ai Wei Wei's new art installation, as commissioned for Unilever's annual exhibit.

However, the gallery's decision to prevent members of the public from walking across the sculpture has leant my trip on Tuesday to the Tate a greater significance. It appears I am now only one in a scant few thousand.

The decision was taken, according to the Tate website, "in consultation with the artist," and I would love to have been privy to that particular conversation.

"Yo, Ai, you know that monumental piece of art that 1600 skilled artisans have been solidly working on for at least two years? The one that's meant to represent the power of people who have access to the internet in China, and therefore the growing potential for a challenge to the censorship of the state?"


"Well, apparently, it gives off... er... Dust."


"So, we're going to have to shut it down. With immediate effect. No one can walk over it. No one can run their fingers over the hand crafted porcelain seeds. No one can sit on it, as they would sit on a beach or a park, and spend a tranquil moment in thought. No one can traverse the border between art and the body, and find a new understanding with the simplest of tactile pleasures... Sorry about that."

Honestly. If "repeated inhalation" of dust "over a long period of time" were a problem, then just slap a time limit on the thing. Have a big ol' annoying buzzer rationing the time spent admiring the art. Enforce obligatory face masks upon the public. Give each visitor their own giant bubble, a Truman Show-esque fish bowl suctioned to their shoulders. Go on. Suffocate us.

This is a ridiculous reaction, that warrants a serious consideration of the things we value in life. To adapt the truism, a little bit of dust never hurt anyone.

Photograph: "Life Line", after Ai Wei Wei's Sunflower Seeds

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