@Large Ai Wei Wei on Alcatraz

Ai Wei Wei is a dissident Chinese artist who is currently forbidden by the Chinese authorities from leaving the country.  He is essentially under house arrest for his criticism of the government, especially about the earthquake in which many schools collapsed killing thousands of children because of shoddy construction.  The combination of Ai Wei Wei’s work and Alcatraz, the former prison in the San Francisco bay transforms the space into a theatrical presentation about what it means to be imprisoned especially for “speaking out” and a yearning for personal freedom and freedom of expression. The exhibition will be on Alcatraz until mid April 2015.

As you enter the first room of the Industrial Arts building you find the giant dragon head of an enormous traditional Chinese kite that occupies the entire space. One thinks about kites flying freely in the air, while this one and other small ones in the room are confined and will never have the ability to fly.
“Privacy is a function of liberty”…Edward Snowden
You can see how this dragon kite fills the whole space. There are quotes from various individuals whose portraits can be seen in the next room.
I believe this is the only place where Ai Wei Wei inserts himself directly into the exhibit. “Everyone here is a potential convict.”
“Trace” is entered from the smaller space of “With Wind” and is quite a large room. This building was where prisoners could go as a reward for good behavior and here they did repairs, laundry, and probably made license plates.
These 176 images were assembled from 1.4 million Legos to Ai Wei Wei’s specifications and were assembled by his studio assistants and volunteers at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco before being transported for final installation at Alcatraz
Detailed portraits, divided by region where they have been imprisoned.
The majority of the names are Arabic no matter what part of the world they are from. The face you see in the front is Naji Fateel a Bahraini arrested during peaceful demonstrations calling from democracy and human rights in 2012.
“Refraction” is a wing constructed out of Tibetan solar cookers. It weighs 5 tons and is confined inside of another section of the Industrial Arts building. It can only be seen from the Gun Gallery.
“Blossom” is installed in sinks, toilets, and tubs in the hospital wing of the prison. The flowers are made of traditional porcelain still produced in a village in China.


Close up of the fragile porcelain flowers.
The flowers may be a reference to the 100 Flowers Campaign in 1956 in China that was a brief period of government tolerance of free expression.




































This is a short video clip of the cell devoted to Pussy Riot, the feminist punk rock protest band in Russia who were imprisoned for a protest song they sang in a church in Moscow protesting against Vladimir Putin.  You see here the cells of Cell Block A that in this exhibit are called “Stay Tuned” as each has poetry, music, or a speech by someone persecuted for their expression.

Ai Weiwei, Stay Tuned, 2014 (installation detail, A Block, Alcatraz)

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