A Bridge Crossed

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There it stays
unrealized,
out of use
‘Til luck runs dry
breaking the crutch

Unaided and alone
the power within
hears the call
The unknown rises,
bolsters a will

A new release
fills empty holes
Far less timid
than before
a fortnight

St. Paul’s Cathedral and Millennium Bridge as seen through a window at the Tate Modern, London, June 2011, c.b.w.

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c.b. 2012

Seeds to Ponder

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Sunflower Seeds by Ai Weiwei is a profound work of art in both its simplicity and awe inspiring scope.  At first glance, it looks like a pile of sunflower seed husks, but upon closer inspection the incredible reality of this piece becomes apparent.  Each seed is handcrafted from porcelain and hand-painted.  No two are alike and more than 100 million were created for the initial exhibition that covered the the Turbine Hall at The Tate Modern.

"Sunflower Seeds" by Ai Weiwei, Original Exhibition in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, (Photo Source: Wikipedia Commons)

During the initial run of the exhibition, (October 2009 – May 2010), people were encouraged to interact with the installation by walking through, sitting or even lying down amid the seeds, but that was short lived as soon as health, safety, and preservation concerns caused it to be roped off.  I’m a little jealous of those who were able to tread through the seeds!

In 2011, the Tate put 8 million of the original seeds on display in response to Weiwei’s detainment by the Chinese government and subsequent disappearance¹.  The display, which represents about 1/10 of the original installation, sits in a large pile in an exhibition room on the third floor. While significantly smaller than the original, the intent and deeper meaning of Weiwei’s work has not been lost.

"Sunflower Seeds" by Ai Weiwei, Tate Museum, London, June 2011, c.b.w.

While open to interpretation on many levels, the intent of Sunflower Seeds reaches into a dark chapter of Chinese history and the human spirit.  During the Cultural Revolution, (a particularly brutal era in history where people lost basic human rights and were stripped of cultural traditions), Mao Zedong launched a massive propaganda campaign where in some instances he depicted himself as the sun and the people as sunflowers who turn their heads to follow him.  However, the artist sees sunflower seeds as a traditional food shared among friends in China and is therefore a symbol of friendship and compassion.  This duality of symbolism creates an interesting insight into the human spirit.  Even in times of strife and struggle, kindness and goodwill continue to survive.

In addition,  Weiwei’s installation offers social commentary on today’s society.  The Tate poses several questions to consider while viewing the seeds:

  • 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 society, the environment and the future?

I had the pleasure of spending some time with this installation last summer, but even after an hour of regarding the Weiwei’s work and contemplating these questions I am no closer to answering them.  Though, I am reminded of a favorite quote, which sums up my general impression of the piece:

What happens to people who spend their lives afraid to voice their opinions? They stop thinking, most likely.

– Ivan Klíma

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¹He was released in June 2011, but remains under scrutiny.

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Sources: 

Tate Modern Exhibition Pages

Ai Weiwei on Wikipedia

The Guardian – Detained Artist Weiwei Remembered . . .

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c.b. 2012

London Bucket List

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When I went to London for the first time back in 2002, I had a Rough Guide map tucked into my backpack.  It turned out to be such a great map, it’s gone on every trip to London, including my 2011 sojourn.  Obviously, using a nine year old map isn’t always a good idea, but it’s never lead me astray, (when I get lost, it’s either operator error or I left my compass in my other jeans). Between a durable plastic coating and including most of the little streets, this is my all-time favorite map.

Aside from laying out the whole city, my Rough Guide map includes a list of 20 can’t miss sites of London.  To-do lists are irresistible, so every time I go to London I make it a point to check off at least one item from the London bucket list.

Click for full-size image

1. The National Gallery

This museum holds treasures from the likes of Da Vinci, Van Gogh, and countless other legendary artists.  No matter how many times I walk through the doors, I am always in awe of the masterpieces hanging on the walls.  The first time I saw a real Van Gogh, I forgot how to breathe. The best part is, the whole experience is free, (though donations are greatly appreciated).

2. London Eye

The tallest ferris wheel in the world is definitely worth the price of the ticket and long line.   The views of London are truly spectacular and it moves slowly enough to allow enough time to fully take in the vistas along the Thames. Some of my most beautiful memories of London come from my ride on the London Eye as I was lucky enough to reach the apex at sunset.

3. Hampstead Heath

This is the first of yet-to-complete items on the list.  There are so many parks in London and I’m gradually making my way to each one.  If anything, Hampstead Heath  gives me a reason to return to London (as if I need one!).

4. Shopping in Covent Garden

There is so much to see and do in Covent Garden.  The shopping is a little out of my league, but it’s fun to look in the windows.  However, my favorite part of Covent Garden are the street performers that populate the center court and side streets.  In the course of an afternoon, there’s everything from music, magic shows, mimes, human statues, and artists.  All I need is a cup of coffee and few quid to toss and I’m all set for a good bit of fun.

5. Royal Court

This is the second yet-to-complete item on the list.  I walk by the theater district on every visit, but I have yet to step foot in a theater.  I travel on pinched penny, so the choice to pass on taking in a play is usually made for financial reasons.  One of these days, I will go and savor the thrill of London’s famed theater tradition.

6. No. 11 Bus

How about bus #43?  On my last trip, I took a double-decker bus from London Bridge all the way to Muswell Hill Broadway.  It took about an hour, but I saw everything from famed sites to little neighborhoods where tourists seldom go.  My tired feet got a rest, the rain couldn’t get me, and I saw the city from a completely different perspective.  Not bad for the price of a bus fare!

7. St. Paul’s

After a while, all churches in Europe start to look the same, but St. Paul’s really does stand out as a uniquely beautiful piece of architecture.  It’s not free or cheap to go inside, but its worth the price to stand beneath distinctive dome.  My jaw literally dropped and stayed that way for much longer than what would be considered polite.  After the dome, take some time to admire the marble floors and columns and then climb up the second floor to see the knave from on high.  The crypt down below is also worth a look, for nothing else but the chance to say, “I crept through a crypt.”

8. Walk Along the South Bank

This is one of my favorite things to do in London.  Not only is the view amazing, but the South Bank is full of vendors, museums, shopping, parks, and kiosks.  While a bustling place filled with people, it is also a place to relax and soak in the atmosphere.  On my last trip, I strolled down the embankment at least half a dozen times. If you go, be sure to listen for the sound of the Thames lapping the shore.

9. Houses of Parliament

From the outside, Parliament is a pretty impressive building.  The gothic spires and arches serve as a symbol of London and house the government machine that runs England.  The real action, however, happens on the inside with spirited debates and the pageantry of tradition.  On selected days, Parliament is open to the public and it’s totally free!  I sat in what felt like box seats and watched representatives debate rather hotly about energy regulations in the U.K.  It sounds like a boring subject, but the Brits keep it lively with witty banter.

10. Somerset House

On three previous trips, I saw Sommerset House from a distance, but never got the chance to venture close enough to see what all the fuss was about.  This summer, I finally walked into the courtyard and was instantly awestruck.  The central court is enormous and surrounded on three sides by the beautiful white facade of the house.  In the middle is a large set of ground fountains that come alive at different intervals.

11 -20 are after the jump . . .

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