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Ai Weiwei: Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds)

In Amélie, there’s a scene that talks about the small pleasures that Audrey Tautou’s character cultivates, including the feeling of dipping her hand into sacks of grain. Synesthetically, for me, I feel a similar pleasure looking at Ai Weiwei’s 2010 installation, Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds). Millions of singular, hand-painted porcelain seeds are poured into the space that holds them. Originally, Ai thought that visitors to the Tate Modern would even be able to walk on the seeds, although they had to suspend that when they realized the dust that these porcelain seeds coughed up could be harmful for those inhaling it all day.

While this work can be interpreted in a number of negative ways — sunflower seeds were closely associated with Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution, a time that stripped citizens of personal freedom and human rights, Ai also associates the seeds with small, intimate moments of joy: Sharing them as a street snack, representing (as the Tate notes) human compassion, pleasure, friendship, and kindness. Interdependence in the face of little independence.

And so it is with most happiness: We can look at good news from both sides. And perhaps even hold both sides as true. Our happiest memories are just as often tinged with some sadness. The fields we wish to walk on can cast dust in our lungs.


Today’s Contemplation: This one is inspired by Yoko Ono and her book Acorn, most specifically “Cleaning Piece V.” The 2018 theme for International Day of Happiness is "Share Happiness," focusing on the importance of interdependence, kindness, and helping one another in all aspects of our relationships. Consider the relationships in your life. Consider how unique each one is, like a handcrafted porcelain sunflower seed. Consider how, when laid on top of one another, these relationships start to look like a blanket of seeds. And here’s where Yoko comes into the mix: As the names of people you are in relationship with cross your mind, say "bless you" after each name. As Yoko writes, "Do this with speed, by keeping a constant rhythm, so, in no way, you would hesitate to bless them."