When artist Ai Weiwei was arrested by Chinese authorities earlier this month, the international art community spoke out in his support. The case has reminded me of Weiwei’s unwitting, but good-humored role in a January hack by Italian artists Iocose.
Iocose is an Italian based performance art group whose guerrilla tactics are beginning to make headlines. In a global culture they describe as a “battleground,” the group plots attacks on the conventions of art, popular culture and the mass media.
Their latest project targeted Weiwei’s “Sunflower Seeds” – a swath of small porcelain pieces crafted to look exactly like scattered sunflower seeds. Iocose drew on irony and prankster spirit to transform Weiwei’s message that “what you see is not what you see and what you see is not what it means.”
Dressed in black suits, the four members of Iocose entered the Tate Modern London ready to attack with a handful of real sunflower seeds as ammunition. Using slingshots, the schoolboy weapon of choice, the group launched the seeds onto Weiwei’s work, creating an unsanctioned second installation indistinguishable from the official piece of art.
The final product, while visually simple, created a dizzying conundrum of authorship. Not fans of the performance, security guards led Iocose away from their exhibit, a move which the group criticized for its “lack of promptness.” On the other hand, Weiwei took to twitter to describe the attack on his piece as “good work.”