The happiest person in London right now might just be the member of Tate Modern night-shift staff who dares wander alone in Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds, despite the health warnings. An already poignant symbol of globalisation was pretty much complete when access to the exhibit was barred due to pollution fears. The footfall of the masses on top of those hundreds of millions of seeds has resulted in ceramic dust that could, according to a Tate spokesperson, “be damaging to health following repeated inhalation over a long period of time.”
Worse, it was the “enthusiastic interaction” of the general populous that caused the closedown. All that trudging, sandcastle making and sunbathing was too much chafing for the hand-painted ceramic seeds. It means that the press and the art insiders at the star-strafed opening party last Monday – plus a couple of thousand members of public – were the only people lucky enough to interact with/steal the art work as Weiwei intended. Unless, of course, creating a microcosm of earth’s transformation from ‘Eden’ to uninhabitable trashcan was part of the artist’s plan from the start.
Antony Gormley, Jay Jopling, Rachel Barrett, Marina Abramovich, Anthony d’Offay, Julia Peyton-Jones, Konrad Wyrebek, Fran Cottell, Silvia Ziranek, Timothy Taylor, Angela Westwater, Nick Foulkes, Alice Rawthorne, David Adjaye, David Meitus and Kenny Goss were among those crunching across the grey field with Sir Nicholas Serota at the opening party.
But if you’ve missed out on the halcyon days of one of the Tate’s strongest Turbine Hall exhibits, don’t fret. Those excluded from last week’s elite can always touch a seed or two in a hastily filled bowl as they jostle for viewing position behind the safety barriers.
Words / Pictures by Matthew Miles