Most Asked Questions

Hundreds of video questions are added to the site each day. Here are Ai Weiwei’s answers to the questions he is asked most regularly.

To find out more about Ai Weiwei and Sunflower Seeds, you can read the curator’s text or watch a video of the seeds being made.


1. How many seeds are there?
There are almost 100 million sunflower seeds.


2. How long did it take?
It took two and a half year to make all of the sunflower seeds.


3. How many people did it take to finish the work?
There were 1,600 people working on it.


4. What was your inspiration?
The idea came from an experience when I was young. I grew up in a farming area and you can see sunflower seeds everywhere.

Chinese society, the kind of political struggle it has, and my memories of it are part of the work, but not all of it. It has more to offer than just some kind of memory. It relates also to the current condition.

The production, the scale, and the involvement of the whole town for such a long period of time - those are all mixed levels of meanings, which make the work's presentation look simple.


5. Why did you use sunflower seeds?
There is a social element to the sunflower seeds, as it is a snack that people share among friends, in meetings and conversations. They are also related to the revolutionary ideology of Mao Zedong, where Chairman Mao is the sun, and his loyal followers the sunflowers surrounding him.


6. How do you feel about people can't interact with your art anymore?
How do you feel about people not being able to walk on your sunflower seeds?
Due to the overwhelming response to the sculpture, unfortunately so much foot traffic has caused a lot of ceramic dust which is not good for the public health. That is why people can no longer interact with the work.

One of the main properties of the piece is to interact with it, and so while I think the work will lose some sense of communication, people can still have a visual response and use their imagination to have contact with the piece.


7. Why can't we walk on the sunflower seeds anymore?
The dust from the porcelain is a potential health risk.


8. Why can't we take some of seeds home?
A work that contains 100 million sunflower seeds needs 100 million sunflower seeds to be complete. However, the idea of taking one, or a few seeds, is a beautiful idea as it's a large work, made by a lot of people. If people like it they want to have a little piece of it.
But, if people start taking some away it's hard to control the proportion of seeds that are taken. Some people may want to take more, some for their friends, and so a policy has to be set up so no one can take any seeds.


9. Will you sell the seeds after the show?
Yes. I'll sell some of them. But the majority will stay together.


10. What will you do with the seeds once the exhibition is finished?
I'm not very clear yet, but i think the majority of the seeds will stay together. Maybe in the future they can be exhibited in some other way, somewhere.


11. Do you think it would be possible to have this sort of work in China?
It's difficult to say. First of all, no one knows how long the current political situation will last in China, and how long it will take for them to change, for them to truly understand culture and art, and the value of creativity.


12. How did you feel when you first saw your installation in place?
When I first saw the installation, I was very touched. It is a very surprising view.


13. I heard you were in prison? Are you ok?
I was under house arrest for 59 hours from Friday 5 November until Sunday 7 November 2010. The Chinese government decided to put me under house arrest because I was planning to have a party in Shanghai. The party was to memorialize a building which was going to be destroyed by the Shanghai government. I designed the building, we constructed it and then we got a note from the government which says that it is illegal and we have to destroy it within 20 days. So I decided to organize this party.

Then I realized, after I made the announcement on Twitter, there are thousands of people who wanted to join this party. I think that made the government really nervous, and they had to do something to stop me going to Shanghai. But this party took place anyway and my house arrest is also over now

Tate update 14 April 2011:
Ai Weiwei was arrested by the Chinese authorities on Sunday 3 April as he tried to board a plane to Hong Kong. The artist remains uncontactable and his whereabouts are unknown. We are dismayed by developments that again threaten Weiwei's right to speak freely as an artist and hope that he will be released immediately.