Ai Weiwei @Large Exhibit at Alcatraz

January 26, 2015

“The misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned.  This is not the case.  When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill.”
— Ai Weiwei, from the @Large exhibit brochure

Approaching Alcatraz Island from the tour boat

Approaching Alcatraz Island from the tour boat, in the San Francisco fog

I enjoyed a quick trip to the Bay area over the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday weekend to visit friends and to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit at Alcatraz.  Weiwei is a dissident artist, currently not permitted to travel outside China.  He conceived and developed the @Large exhibit from his studio in Beijing, and it was installed with his detailed instructions in various buildings within Alcatraz.  The former prison was an evokative setting for this exhibit, whose themes are freedom, detention, and justice.  Making this trip over the MLK holiday also seemed especially appropriate.

Building 64, Alcatraz

Building 64, Alcatraz

Water tower, Alcatraz

Water tower, Alcatraz

The water tower still showed signs from the 1969 - 71 occupation of Alcatraz by the Indians of All Tribes, a significant event in Native American history

The water tower still showed signs from the 1969 – 71 occupation of Alcatraz by the Indians of All Tribes, a significant event in Native American history

A Block, Alcatraz

A Block, Alcatraz

A Block

A Block

Prison cell, Alcatraz

Prison cell, Alcatraz

Cell house, Alcatraz

Cell house, Alcatraz

The art exhibit was a multi-sensory experience.  There was a sound installation in the cell house and A Block, which featured music, poetry, and speeches by artists of conscience.  And Tibetan and Native American chants played in the cell house hospital’s two psychiatric observation rooms.

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One can imagine how important books and letters are to prisoners as a way to bear their isolation.  The “Yours Truly” part of Weiwei’s exhibit gave visitors an opportunity to write messages to prisoners of conscience currently detained around the world.  Postcards featured images of birds and flowers, and postage was provided.

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I appreciated the layout of the @Large exhibit, which required one to walk outside from building to building to see the various artworks.  The walking time gave one time to absorb and reflect upon the works.  And while thinking about detention and imprisonment, to enjoy the grounds with their views of the bay, and the lovely gardens.

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I particularly liked Weiwei’s “Blossom” installation in the cell house hospital.  The delicate, pristine white porcelain bouquets were points of hope amidst the ruins.

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“Refraction” was viewed through broken and cracked window glass, a huge winged structure that felt very heavy.

"Refraction" by Ai Weiwei

“Refraction” by Ai Weiwei

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As we walked along the narrow corridor to the next exhibit, we caught glimpses through broken windows.  “Trace” featured portraits made of LEGOs of political prisoners.

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"Trace" by Ai Weiwei

“Trace” by Ai Weiwei

I liked seeing the portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King on this MLK holiday weekend.

I liked seeing the portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King on this MLK holiday weekend.

A traditional Chinese dragon kite featured large in the “With Wind” installation.  Another emblem of freedom.

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5 Responses to “Ai Weiwei @Large Exhibit at Alcatraz”

  1. Renee Says:

    Wonderful pictorial. Thanks for printing

  2. fingerwerk Says:

    Amazing pictures! How awesome that sceneries. I really wish I could see everything by myself! I loved the Ai Weiwei’s works at the Documenta in Kassel, Germany.
    Thank you very much for sharing your impressions.
    Karin

  3. Elisa Says:

    I must not know enough about Alcatraz to grasp it’s use for art and for protest of political prisoners.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Alcatraz is now a national park. The artist had to secure special permission for his exhibit, which is a temporary installation there.

      • Elisa Says:

        Thank you those parts I know, however his art seem to be for falsely imprisoned voices trying to make them shut up. This as far as I could glean from the national park site, was not what Alcatraz was for. I guess I meant why particularly use Alcatraz. I suppose it sounds like I am accusing you or trying to make you speak as if you are the artist. I suppose the answer isn’t very important in the end. I was just curious. Thanks for the post Rosemary. I hope you enjoyed the trip.


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