Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ai Weiwei @ TateModern

I was intrigued by the sudden decision to change the terms of exhibition of this large installation piece, which involved 100 million sunflower seed replicas hand-crafted from clay and slips over the course of several years by the inhabitants of the "porcelain city" of Jingdezhen, China. Being unable to see the actual clay units, I relied on Roberta Smith's New York Times article, as well as the Tate Modern's video presentation of the work's making to help me envision the sight and sound of what it must have been like to traipse through the space and pick up handfuls of the realistic-seeming seeds which, nonetheless, did fall short of being truly lifelike, for my money, from what the video shows. Still, it must have been lovely... . In the documentary video, the artist is shown walking through a large room filled with the seeds. He speculates that viewers will initially take them for the real thing, since the scale of such an undertaking is too mind-boggling. He imagines they might pick up a seed to test it in their mouth ( which I wouldn't urge doing if the slips get some of their color from manganese ). My hunch is that they didn't have a glaze coating over the slips, and perhaps if the units were done all in a once-firing, that the surface was being abraded a great deal thus kicking up what was reported to be visible clouds of dust when viewers came into contact with the piece. With raw clay, or even underfired clay, dust will be an issue. And of course, where there's visible dust, that means that there must also be a quite high amount of the never-visible sub-micron particles that pose the threat of lung damage. The articles I saw about the curtailment of the audience-participation aspect of Weiwei's piece spoke of concern for viewer's health, but failed to mention the more sustained danger that museum staff would be subject to. Walking through a dustcloud, especially if you are asthmatic, is a bad idea, but to be subject to days, even months-long exposure through no choice of your own, well that's another matter. In a post re: Zhang Huan's piece at PaceWildenstein in June of 2008, you can see a Clay Dojo entry addressing similar concerns. That said, thanks for all the writing on clay-related artwork and pots that you have contributed of late, Roberta. We here at the Dojo appreciate .. . .. . . .. .

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