Sunday, November 14, 2010

Those sunflower seeds

click photo to enlarge
Over the years I've been to a few exhibitions in the old turbine hall at Tate Modern. By and large they've been "installations" that have left me cold. I'm not a fan of this kind of art, but I do think that the exponents chosen for this venue tend to be selected with an eye to provoking the wrong kind of response from the general public. And, in fairness to the organisers, they often succeed. I've blogged before about one of the pieces I saw, Rachel Whiteread's "Embankment", a collection of white, cast plastic boxes. Most of what I said about that work applies in the case of Ai Wewei's "Sunflower Seeds".

In my opinion this is a further artful work, rather than meaningful art. Anything that it says seems to me to be so slight as to be trivial - not what I want from any work. In fact it seems to be one of the all too common WYSIATI pieces of art (What You See Is All There Is). And you do have to wonder just how much meaning can be embedded in a myriad of ceramic sunflower seeds made by people other than the artist that are spread across the ground in a rectangular shape. From above it looks like gravel: from nearby it looks like what it is. There is precious little to inspire thought, wonder, revulsion, appreciation, or any of the other feelings that art can excite.

Consequently, after I'd looked at it from above I went down to see how I could possibly photograph it. I thought about filling the frame with the "seeds", but that was just as boring as the art work itself. So then I got down on my knees and looked through the camera across them to the far wall. My best shot is this one with the point of focus nearby, the rest of the seeds, the far corner walls, and people all out of focus in the distance. Not a great shot, but, given the subject matter, what's a photographer to do?

Note: The shot of the Sunflower Seeds seen from above that I link to was taken before the public were forbidden from walking on them for "health and safety reasons" (i.e. dust). Would I have felt differently about the piece if I'd been able to do what the artist intended? You decide.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 105mm
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/30
ISO: 3200
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On