Ai Weiwei holds hand-painted, porcelain sunflower seeds from his installation at the Tate Modern in London. Ai Weiwei holds porcelain seeds from his Unilever installation titled “Sunflower Seeds.” (photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s latest installation at the Tate Modern is an incredible feat: one hundred million hand-painted pieces of porcelain that resemble the shells of sunflower seeds. One finds oneself moved to understand its meaning, to grasp its scale, to contemplate the immense amount of energy and ability of so many artisans to produce something this massive — and oh-so delicate — all so that can be walked on, laid on, picked up, thrown, raked, or what have you in the midst of the minimal gray landscape of Turbine Hall.

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A close-up view of some of the porcelain husks used in “Sunflower Seeds.” (photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Nothing appears to be what it seems. And, for Weiwei, the meaning goes much deeper: “From a very young age I started to sense that an individual has to set an example in society. Your own acts and behavior tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be.”

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A girl and her mother sit and toss some of the 100 million porcelain seeds in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London. (photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Where Anton Gormley’s massive humanoid sculptures somehow aid your eye on focusing on the environment in which they’re set, nature strangely becomes the focus. Here, I can only imagine, these objets d’art, these precious works of individual hands, become the focal point as you crush them beneath your heels. The sonorous echoes of this footfall is a social and political act in itself — probably one each observer doesn’t fully appreciate until you walk out to the River Thames and trample silently on concrete and manicured turf.

The Guardian has put together this insightful short video of Ai Weiwei discussing the humanity that drives his social and political stances on his art, the creative thinking coming out of China, and the way way technology enabled him to amplify his voice and “to speak for generations who don’t have a chance to speak out”:


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what a sublime haiku/commentary on the deceptive nature of appearances; homogeneity; as well as the uniqueness and mystery of being individual. thank you weiwei for bringing us this masterpiece of social and political soul searching.
megan webster tatum, chicago, il

Lovely, courageous, inspiring. Thank you.

thank you

I have followed this clever and gifted artist's work for some time; He continues to reflect both beauty and great symbolism in his installations. This SUNFLOWER SEED work is a remarkable effort; it bespeaks the oft overlooked fact that 'the most simple and small can be the most powerful statement of all.' I wish him continued success and inspiration. Weiwei is a wise and talented person...

Wow, there not really a lot to add to that. Its an incredible feet and the concept of contemplative seeds of though is amazing. Something to see for sure

Very interesting, 100 million hand painted, a feat of discipline if nothing else.

Big waste of time, energy, and resources.

apples