Last night I was at Tate Modern for the opening of Ai Weiwei‘s Turbine Hall installation. The vast space is covered with what appears from a distance to be little grey stones, the sound as people walk sounds like the comforting crunch of a shingle beach, looking closer you see not little pebbles but a deep carpet of sunflower seeds, scoop up a handful and you discover they are replicas of sunflower seeds in fact made of porcelain, each is handmade and hand painted, they amount to 100 million.
The successful installations at Tate Modern for me are the ones that draw the visitors in to their magic, immerse you and take you somewhere else in your head (Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project) connecting you not only with the strangers around you through the experience but with the cries of strangers in a far off country (Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth). This installation achieves both of these. The seeds are beautiful to look at, to walk on and to listen to as you and others walk on them. More than that, mount the stairs and look down on the hall, patterns are created of people gently ambling over the porcelain seeds, the visitors become unwitting performers, this is one of the drawings I made last night.
Ai Weiwei wants the public to correspond with him to give feed back and ask questions through twitter and computer terminals are set up in front of the installation to enable you to do so. Ai Weiwei was at the opening last night, quietly charismatic with a strong presence, he spoke to everyone that approached him, he is in this drawing, facing us in the huddle on the left, surrounded.