Sunflower Seeds 2010 by Ai Weiwei


Sunflower Seeds 2010 by Ai Weiwei

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has covered the floor of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London with more than 100 million individually handmade replica sunflower seeds.

Sunflower Seeds 2010 by Ai Weiwei

Top image is by Marcus Leith & Andrew Dunkley

Commissioned for the The Unilever Series, the installation invites visitors to walk over the porcelain pieces, which cover 1000 square metres of the hall.

Sunflower Seeds 2010 by Ai Weiwei

Each seed was moulded, fired, hand-painted and fired again in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen over a two year period.

Sunflower Seeds 2010 by Ai Weiwei

Photographs are copyright Tate Photography.

Sunflower Seeds 2010 by Ai Weiwei

Above image is by Marcus Leith & Andrew Dunkley

Here's some more information from Tate:

Tate Modern today unveils the latest commission in The Unilever Series, Sunflower Seeds, by the renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The sculptural installation appears at first to be a vast, flat landscape of sunflower seed husks, covering the east end of the Turbine Hall. Visitors are invited to walk across the surface of the work and discover that each seed is in fact a unique porcelain replica, one of over 100 million individually handmade objects which have been specially produced for the commission.

This is the largest work Ai has made using porcelain, one of China’s most prized exports, with which he has previously created imitation fruit, clothes and vases. Although they look identical from a distance, every seed is different, and far from being industrially produced, ‘readymade’ or found objects, they have each been intricately handcrafted by skilled artisans. All of them have been produced in the city of Jingdezhen, which is famed for its production of Imperial porcelain. Each ceramic seed was moulded, fired at 1300°C, hand-painted and then fired again at 800°C. Over the course of two years, over 100 million of these were made, forming a mass of objects that weighs over 150 metric tonnes, covering 1000 square metres of the Turbine Hall. The casual act of walking across their surface contrasts powerfully with the precious nature of the material and the effort of its production.

For Ai, sunflower seeds – a common Chinese street snack shared by friends – carry personal associations from the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). While individuals were stripped of personal freedom, propaganda images depicted Chairman Mao as the sun and the mass of people as sunflowers turning towards him. Yet Ai remembers the sharing of sunflower seeds as a gesture of human compassion, providing a space for pleasure, friendship and kindness during a time of extreme poverty, repression and uncertainty. There are also contemporary resonances in the work, with its combination of mass production and traditional craftsmanship inviting us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geopolitics of cultural and economic exchange.

Sunflower Seeds is a sensory and immersive installation, which visitors can touch, walk on and listen to as the seeds shift beneath their feet. However, the tactile, engaging nature of this work also encourages us to consider highly pertinent questions about ourselves and our world. What does it mean to be an individual in today’s society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together? What do our increasing desires, materialism and number mean for the future? Ai Weiwei has said “From a very young age I started to sense that an individual has to set an example in society. Your own acts and behaviour tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be.”

Sheena Wagstaff, Chief Curator, Tate Modern said: “Ai Weiwei has created a truly unique experience for visitors to this year's Unilever Series. The sense of scale and quality of craftsmanship achieved in each small perfectly formed sunflower seed is astonishing. In trying to comprehend their sheer quantity, Ai provokes a multitude of ideas, from the way we perceive number and value, to the way we engage with society at large.”

Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer, Unilever said: “We are proud of our long relationship with Tate Modern. It is a partnership that has produced some spectacular commissions in the Turbine Hall over the last ten years. Ai Weiwei’s imaginative and thoughtful approach to the eleventh commission is very much in this tradition. We hope that his work will bring pleasure to all who see it.”

Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing, China, where he lives and works. He has exhibited internationally, including recent solo shows at Mori Art Museum, Tokyo and Haus der Kunst, Munich, and has contributed to many group exhibitions around the world, including at the São Paulo Biennial; Documenta 12, Kassel, Germany and Tate Liverpool, UK. Ai also founded the design company Fake Design and co-founded the China Art Archives and Warehouse in Beijing. His work is held in many major collections, including Tate Collection (Table and Pillar 2002).

The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei is curated by Juliet Bingham, Curator, Tate Modern, supported by Kasia Redzisz, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.

The Unilever Series of annual commissions was launched in 2000 when Tate Modern opened with Louise Bourgeois’s I Do, I Undo, I Redo. The Spanish artist Juan Muñoz was the second artist commissioned in 2001 with Double Bind, and the first British artist to be commissioned was Anish Kapoor with Marsyas in 2002. Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project illuminated the Turbine Hall in 2003 and Bruce Nauman’s mesmerising sound installation Raw Materials opened in October 2004. In 2005 Rachel Whiteread created her installation EMBANKMENT, followed by Carsten Höller’s interactive spiralling slides Test Site in 2006. In 2007 Doris Salcedo’s subterranean sculpture Shibboleth ran the length of the building, dramatically breaking open the floor of the Turbine Hall. In TH.2058 in 2008, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster transformed the Turbine Hall into a futuristic shelter filled with bunk beds and gargantuan sculptures, while in 2009 Miroslaw Balka created the eerie How It Is, a vast steel chamber with a pitch black interior.

Unilever’s sponsorship of The Unilever Series at Tate Modern began in 2000 and has been extended until 2012. The Unilever Series has inspired over 24 million visitors to Tate Modern. The commission is also the basis for cultural exchange thanks to the success of The Unilever Series: turbinegeneration. Launched in 2009, turbinegeneration is an online education project linking schools across the globe. 30 countries will be taking part in the project by 2012. The Unilever Series and the associated education programme reflect Unilever’s commitment to inspirational and thought-provoking art.

The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei
Sunflower Seeds
Tate Modern, Turbine Hall
12 October 2010 – 2 May 2011
Admission free

See also:


Ai Weiwei at
Albion Gallery
Artfarm by HHF Architects
and Ai Weiwei
Tsai Residence by HHF architects and Ai Weiwei

Posted on Monday October 11th 2010 at 3:41 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • skeptic

    why? what a waste of 2 years of your life.

    • Greig

      i'd be very surprised if he made them himself

    • phil

      I agree it was a waste of time. Trying not to sound judgemental, and probably failing, what if those hours were used to help the Chinese people. I'd bet those hours could build a school, a hospital or used to grow food or the like. Two years has 63 MILLION seconds in it. If one person could make one seed per second, and never slept, ate or anything else, it would take four years. If each one took one minute, and one person did only that, it would take THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY YEARS! Realistically we're talking hundred of people spending two years! I really think thats a waste of human resources!

      • Joe

        Glad you are not in charge of anything major on this planet.

  • I find it uncanny how I’ve never heard of this artist before despite the fact that we have identical names.

    • Stephanie

      He was the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics..

  • Anton

    a dream of a gopnik)

  • Roberto

    Geeez!! Labor must be cheap in China!

  • mmm

    The concept reminds of the Shalechet installation in the Berlin Jewish museum of Menashe Kadishman.

    I'm curious to see it.

  • ben

    if that's what it takes to get shown at the tate…

  • Splendid. One more reason to visit London again…

  • birdy

    child labor

    • viiaan

      not child labor…

  • Cathryn

    I wonder how many people actually worked to produce this. I love it, but can't help thinking that it could drive small birds mad.

  • amsam

    O god do they break when the people walk on them?? I couldn't take it! Somehow this upsets me a lot. (Maybe that means it's good art?)

  • tOl

    is this art or slavery? seriously, handmade? what is the point..

  • parrots would go crazy in here …

  • Ariel Diaz yambao

    What will happen to these seeds after this installation?

  • whats stopping people stealing them? bet it'll be empty in a week!

  • Wow, very nice pics. As fellow mate told, no birds should be allowed in this room.

    • Smeagol

      *Chuckles* you, sir, made me smile today.

  • What a joke! Think about all the energy to make, process, paint and distribute this! What kind of a world do we live in that we spend 2 years to make 100 million FAKE sunflower seeds by a million Chinese workers!!. The guy to came up with this…. nuts! and what when this exhibition gets tired?

    Get a grip folks!

    • zeemmee

      Surprisingly someone came up with the idea, more surprisingly some did let it happen!!

    • john graham

      that's the whole point. that these chinese workers are so powerless, so much the slaves of other people, that they could be made to spend 2 years of their life to make fake sun flower seeds for english people to walk over. That's the metaphor.

  • tanyatelford

    i think its good that the Tate is showing his work. As anyone who has read anything about him knows he is politically active – nope – i don't think that exactly describes him – (from what ive read) maybe more "(justly?) active & with concerns" in his own country and has even risked his own life to highlight some subjects & things. Maybe this piece can been seen and even will be seen as part of a conversation about so many different things, (i think its good to include artists in conversation sometimes),

  • max

    you guys should really learn about ai weiweis work and history, e.g. his treatment by the chinese government, before talking trash! also the meaning of the sunflower seed for chinese history is described in the text, so dont just look at the pictures…
    i think its a very strong and emotional project just like "remembering"….would like to see it.

  • MMM

    Funny that… the reaction that most of you guys have is what this installation is supposed to evoke. A society of excess in the expense of labour harnessed from the less fortunate. They look like seeds that have a chance to blossom into sunflowers, combining to create a calm and beautiful atmosphere for us, yet they are stumped upon and stripped of the opportunities that they deserves…

  • a chinese

    seriously impressive work here i think & i know some of u don't know much about his background. that's why it's hard to appreciate his work. i suggest you should at least read more about 'Interpretation Text' & 'Artist's Quotes' from tate modern website.

  • Greenish

    Hells bells people. If the Tate have the funding, then some people in China just made an honest living for two years, and we get to enjoy exploring the result. Stranger things have been shown at the Tate, and exhibits which took longer to produce. Calm down, go see it, then have your rant!

  • antepostnow

    a latest count stated a total of 102.237.113 seeds, artisticaly explained by the artist and the curator – all to confuse our spoiled and rotten minds with supposed allegories of ones individuals and a societies backgrounds.

  • ztef

    I think it is rather strange on a forum like this, about design, art, architecture, that people judge without looking at the entire context and content of the work and the artist.

    I think it is very good. Btw how beautiful is that upclose shot of that seed. Amazing, wish could see it for real.

  • As a native Chinese reader, I find this piece really strong and emotional even just looking at the pictures. It connects and reflects issues in Chinese society and history in many levels. Taking the most ordinary objects and produce/display it in a total different context is somehow the most powerful way of expressing.

    And also for those people who commented on the laboring, if you have paid a bit more attention or interest in modern chinese society you would probably know there are millions of people doing much worse jobs than painting these seeds, at least they get paid by doing that.
    but i think this is exactly Ai Weiwei's point, at least you are concerned about these poor labors now in the far east, even without reading any background texts.

    • Barry

      If an artist need more than one thousand people to express a idea in a powerful way , it simply means the artist himself is very weak.

      • zeus

        If an artist is able to encompass a thousand people to create a pice, it might also mean he is very strong.
        I think art is first and foremost about the experience, and other considerations are secondary.

    • Katalin

      Hi Mavis,

      I'm from Hungary, know very little about China other than the horrible working conditions of ordinary people who suffer to produce for the west. The piece moves me somewhere deep. I was glad to see the potters making the seeds, earning a living using their traditional skills. It also reminded me of my own traditional pottery training in the late 1970s. It is mazing how this work of art can be so powerful for people living so far from away from China.

  • David

    an amazing piece of work and an incredible achievement that speaks volumes of the times in which we live.

  • Ivars

    Food for thought.

  • Not surprising to see this majestic work of a great Chinese artist who prolongs its artistic and cultural heritage, especially when you think the Wall of China, the Terracotta Army in Xi'an and now the seeds Sunflower by millions, it's fascinating!

    Bravo to the artist.

    François Waêl Beydoun

  • Alex Bath

    hey, I made a video of the first day of the exhibition (for the public) it is at go have a look (if you want!)

    Think the work is incredible, so many people engaging with art is so good to see.

  • Tian

    Nearly 2000 workers were hired to make these sunflower seeds, most of which are local unemployed young women. The creation of this artwork created work for them for 2 years.

  • klara

    this is not made by slavery as people say.

    I work also in Jingdezhen also where he produced the work and i know the small craftplaces where he had this made. It's made by small workshops not young kids, also he would definite not work with those.

    Also the porcelain is so high fired it becomes like pebbles so you actually can walk and interact with them.

    If you appreciate or like his work or not.. the making off wasn't as bad as people think it is..

  • more than 100 million 葵瓜子,so crazy !!!

  • coco de mer

    999, 926 to be exact. i took a handful.


    big emotions . big discussions
    seems like strong art to me
    they should sell them on the web at the end of the show and donate the money
    1 pound a piece
    that way they get spread all over the globe
    from the poorest in china into the worlds mind
    i would buy at least 10 of them !

  • rdeam


    I would like to know more about the process and logistics – how many people were involved with the painting and moulding etc.

    2739 a day
    228 per hour on a 12hr day.

    solo is impossible surely

  • Fizz

    This piece reminds me of Anthony Gormley’s ‘Field’, in both visual and intellectual impact when considering individuality versus ‘the masses’. But whereas – and correct me if I’m wrong – the Gormley work was produced by many children each creating one item, Weiwei seems maybe to have missed a slight trick here. We are told (above) that each ‘seed’ of the one hundred million was crafted by, quote: “skilled artisans”. However, we are not told how many were involved and how many seeds each were briefed to produce. Thus, if say each was asked to make 5000 items then just 20,000 artisans would need be employed (and I use the word ‘just’ relatively). If that were the kind of case, then the shine of the project for me at any rate, has been taken off somewhat. Now I will perhaps be accused of splitting hairs and maybe uneccessary number crunching, but more overwhelming would have been the idea that one seed was manufactured by one person – not unfeasible to be a reality in a nation of a little more than 1.3 billion people. The logistics though, not to mention organisation, would be tricky to say the least. All said and done, you do have to admire both the scale and the underlying concept, so don’t think me unsympathetic to what is an extreaordinary piece.

  • Fizz

    I only spotted Tian's remarks above after posting my previous comment so am now wiser as to the number of people involved in the making of this work. I'm pleased that the operation gave 2000 women the opportunity to be gainfully employed for two years, although I still debate the principle of what is represented re. volume.

  • ivreich

    This is great but for all the wrong reasons…The irony is very amusing!

    While everyone outside China is complaining about fake eggs, fake bamboo shoots, fake handbags, fake chickens, fake everything coming out of China, here is the Tate Modern celebrating the very skill/determination/cheap labour that enables the Chinese to make such wonderfully convincing counterfeits!

    Kudos to the artist and his helpers, not just for their impeccable workmanship, but for being able to sell the idea of celebrating one of China's "most prized exports" to a leading Western institution.

    And I'm not referring to the porcelain!

  • it speaks more about obssessive complusive disorders ^^
    that being said, it doesn't minimize the beauty of this work.

  • 100,000,000 seeds / 1,000 square meters
    100,000 seeds / 1 square meter
    1 seed / 6 work-minutes
    1 square meter = 600,000 work-minutes
    525,600 minutes of life / year
    1 square meter = 1.141 years of the life of one human being

  • ece

    A magnificent body of work need not be huge in size.

  • Thomas

    I am so relieved that the many skeptics who began this thread have been so thoroughly debased by the later comments. Clearly, this is a remarkable and thought provoking piece – if yr not too familiar with contemporary art, perhaps worth digging around into the content a bit before sharing your ignorance with the online world.

  • Edd

    100,000,000 seeds per 2000 women for 2 years
    50,000 seeds per woman for 2 years
    68.5 seeds per woman per day, for 730 days

  • enbs

    phil- what are you doing wasting your time posting a comment on this blog and not doing something more worthwhile like volunteering in an emergency room or feeding starving children in africa?

    the 2000 skilled workers were given a job and paid for their time for 2 years of their life, making a decent wage for this incredible project.

  • hotbiker

    ‘Made in China’ phenomenon.

    Maybe I would get the message better if visitors get to walk on fake iPhones and fake everything.