Is an artist an entrepreneur? World-renowned artist Ai Weiwei employed 1,600 people of the Chinese city of Jingdezhen to create millions of hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds for an installation at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. The artisanal craft of porcelain and painting was traditionally this city’s primary economy.
“You realize people tell you, ‘Oh, he’s the one making sunflower seeds’ and, ‘We really love your work. Can you give us more work?'”
Ai Weiwei watches everyone working. The workers are asked how they feel about their work.
Are you happy to work on this?
Bring business. There is nothing much to do here anymore.
Basically, a lot of the people have gone bankrupt.
You will notice the camera zooming in on price stickers still on the back of a woman’s heels and another woman on a mobile phone. Even in the state of economic depression that they are in, they are still aspiring to mostly westernized standards of materialism.
I don’t believe that employing such people is exploitation with the proper mindfulness about the effects of globalization on their culture. They are glad for work and wages which enable them to continue keeping up with the costs of living. It engages them as artisans, which was their time-honored tradition.
Ai Weiwei’s documentary Never Sorry is a brilliant public display of refusal to back down from doing what he knows is right and to keep on his path of fusing art, politics, and globalization into a craft that bends the boundaries of art and entrepreneurship. In this documentary, he publically shows how the Chinese laws of censorship went so far as to cover up deaths of children during an earthquake, hack his personal computer, track him back to his hotel in Munich to physically assault him, destroy his art studio, and install security cameras around his home. He cheekily created sculptures of security cameras to say, I see you watching me.
This man makes artistic activism his mark of entrepreneurship.
Photos of Ai Weiwei were taken by Alfred Weidinger
Artist’s Studio, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin
Leica Camera AG Leica S2