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Ai Weiwei, Sunflower seeds

The story behind the artwork that carperted Tate Modern with millions of handmade sunflower seeds

In 2010 Ai Weiwei, one of China’s leading conceptual artists and an outspoken social commentator, carpeted Tate Modern's Turbine Hall with millions of porcelain sunflower seeds, each intricately hand-painted. In this film he talks about his motivation, and goes back to the Chinese city of Jingdezhen to meet some of the 1,600 artisans who created the seeds for him.

Each seed was individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape.

Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today.

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