How One Hundred Million Porcelain Sunflower Seeds Are Like Twitter

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei carpeted the Turbine Hall in Britain's prestigious Tate Gallery with a sunflower seeds. Well, not quite: With painted porcelain replica sunflower seeds. One hundred million painted porcelain replica sunflower seeds. It's like Twitter, Ai says.

Ai's installation—the eleventh in a series, sponsored by conglomerate Unilever, in the massive Turbine Hall—covers 10,700 square feet of space. It's called "Sunflower Seeds." The seeds were individually made and hand-painted by artisans in the city of Jingdezhen (some 1,600 people were involved) who were paid a living wage.

Okay, so: Art! (Do yourself a favor and don't read any internet comments about this project, unless you are interested in reading people just not getting it.) But what does this have to do with Twitter? Ai is a dedicated user (you can follow him here) who turned to Tweeting after his blogs were continuously shut down, and he's traced similarities between Sunflower Seeds and the microblogging service. He told Reuters:

"Every day (I spend) many hours with many different people (on Twitter)," he told Reuters at a press preview on Monday.

"All together there is shared information and many ideas, which creates something beautiful and important. Our time is about shared information and participation," he added, speaking in English.

Ha, well, I'm not sure that clears anything up. The Guardian's interpretation is that Ai's piece and Twitter are each "a vast sea of ideas and communication contributed by individual people"—in other words, that what lies at the heart of each is the tension between the individual and the collective, the specific and the general, the unique and the generic.

Which sounds like a good start at reading Ai's installation! But there's more going on here, isn't there? Don't look at us, though! We were English majors. Not that we mind looking at the nice pictures:

How One Hundred Million Porcelain Sunflower Seeds Are Like Twitter

How One Hundred Million Porcelain Sunflower Seeds Are Like Twitter

How One Hundred Million Porcelain Sunflower Seeds Are Like Twitter

How One Hundred Million Porcelain Sunflower Seeds Are Like Twitter

How One Hundred Million Porcelain Sunflower Seeds Are Like Twitter

[Photos via AP]