Mar 13, 2019 | By Alexei Cowan
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China’s most controversial artist-activist, Ai Weiwei has mounted a multi-disciplinary site-specific exhibition throughout the infamous Alcatraz federal penitentiary. Situated a mile and a half off the shore of San Francisco, Alcatraz housed some of America’s most notorious criminals including Al Capone and Robert Franklin Stroud, better known as The Birdman of Alcatraz, from 1933-1963. The now emptied island is a popular tourist spot and a national park, accessible only by ferry. @Large: Ai WeiWei on Alcatraz continues Ai’s exploration of human rights and freedom of expression within the context of the prison. Seven works comprised of readymade sculpture, sound and mixed-media installation are set within the buildings of Alcatraz, including the New Industries work building, the hospital main ward and psychiatric cells, the A Block of cells and the Dining Hall.
Ai, who is still forbidden from travelling outside of China per the government, conceived of and created the works in his Beijing studio which were then painstakingly assembled onsite. From the symbolism of a Chinese dragon kite printed with famous quotations of political activists to the unnerving sound installations of famous speeches, songs and poems of protest within the isolated cells of A Block, Ai wrestles with notions of freedom, rebellion and political belief. Perhaps the most moving and significant aspect of @Large is the final installation, Yours Truly, which brings the exhibition full circle. Ending in the Dining Hall, visitors are invited to pen a message to the living prisoners represented throughout the exhibition on postcards printed with birds and plants representative of the nations where the prisoners are currently being held. The direct one-to-one communication engages the viewer, allowing them to participate in a dialogue with the themes and messages explored throughout Ai WeiWei’s work. – Chris Tsuyuki
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September 27, 2014 – April 26, 2015
Images courtesy of For-Site Foundation
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