Unabridged article first published in Salford Student Direct: Issue 19

Following a jolly jaunt down to London the other week, I ended up enjoying the sites of the Tate Modern. Now I’m no stranger to art galleries, but trying to cast my mind back to the last time I was in the Tate is nigh on impossible. The year evades me, as does the art I saw. I verily enjoyed myself, and would highly recommend it for any of you who currently have plans to visit London in the near future, especially with the current exhibition in Turbine Hall of Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds. Now if you’ve not heard of this exhibition, it’s simply astounding and available until May this year. Over 100 million hand-painted, porcelain sunflower seeds litter the floor. Another piece of amazing, tactile art.

At least, it was tactile until recently when the executives at the gallery were ‘advised’ to ban members of the public from walking on the stones. Not because of the weight, porcelain is a highly versatile and sturdy form of clay. No, it was indeed because of the potential health risk proposed by the dust that was formed from so many of the little sculptures. Now this is all very well and good, but health and safety has once more placed a firm barrier between something that was designed to be a thought-provoking, interactive piece. The piece still remains amazing, immense even, due to the history behind it. Two and a half years work by 1, 600 people to create this sea of uniqueness. But without the interactive value, the reason for the inspiration of awe one receives is changed.

I’d not really thought that much into the prohibition on the featured piece until later on into the gallery where I saw two pieces by German photographer Thomas Struth. Struth’s photographs were of people, as common as you and I, enjoying some of the greatest pieces of art the world knows. Struth had immortalised the spectators, their thoughts and views of the art before them, and had made the art interactive. Indeed, it was bizarre standing and looking at a piece of work that was of people looking at a piece of work, and then a question popped into my mind. What if Struth was here now and was taking a picture of me and the other viewers viewing his piece of viewers? I too would be immortalised, I would become a part of the original famous work. But why, Struth? Why? What use do these photos hold? For me, these photos affirmed the fact that in modern times, art needs to be interactive. It’s not so much a case of pushing boundaries; we, the spectator, have always been a part of the art. Struth has just informed us of this in a way that we can perceive, in an interactive revelation of the mutuality of art.

This then countered my original reasoning that modern art needs to be interactive, for all art up until now has been interactive. Literature, music, sculptures, paintings, architecture. The interactivity does not come from the tactility, but from all of the sense and thoughts you have when you read, hear, or see.  So the disappointment at the ban on Weiwei’s piece was slowly banished as I realised that, despite not having walked upon it, nor touched one of the ‘seeds’, I had still been a part of it. Just as, later on, my friend and I had been a part of each and every piece on show. Perhaps not immortalised in the same sense as those found in Struth’s work, but far more personally. And when that’s just not good enough, I’ll just have to buy some of the sunflower seeds when they go up for sale at the end of the exhibition.


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