San Francisco - Exhibition

@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

Alcatraz

27 Sep 201426 Apr 2015

Featuring seven new sculpture, sound, and mixed- media works by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz explores human rights and freedom of expression in the context of this iconic historic site.Installed across four locations on Alcatraz, the exhibition is inspired by the island’s layered history as a 19th-century military fortress, notorious federal penitentiary, significant site of Native American history, and now one of America’s most visited national parks. Ai’s artworks in @Large raise urgent questions about the social implications of incarceration and the definitions of liberty, justice, individual rights, and personal responsibility as interpreted through the lens of the artist’s personal experiences.

The site-specific installations are located in the two-story New Industries Building where “privileged” inmates were permitted to work; the Hospital main ward and psychiatric observation cells; A Block, the only cellblock not remodeled since the military prison was constructed in the early 20th century; and the Dining Hall.For Ai, the inspiration for the exhibition is not simply an exploration of social issues or artistic themes; it is rooted in the reality of his life. In spring 2011, Ai was detained by the Chinese government for 81 days on charges of tax evasion. Following his release, he was prohibited from leaving Beijing for one year, and he is still forbidden to travel outside of China. Because Ai could not visit Alcatraz, he developed the works in his Beijing studio with support from the presenting partners, Bay Area volunteers, and Amnesty International, which provided research material.

The works in @Large balance political impact with aesthetic elegance, presenting the viewer with objective information and evoking a deeper understanding of underlying themes. Images of birds and wings metaphorically invoke freedom and creativity, while research-based works keep the visitor grounded in specific realities. Several of the installations directly reference the experiences of individuals deprived of their rights for actively expressing their beliefs. “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,” said Ai Weiwei.The seven installations include: With Wind, Trace, Refraction (New Industries Building), Stay Tuned (A Block), Illumination, Blossom (Hospital), Yours Truly (Dining Hall).To support dialogue and interaction on the exhibition’s themes, both on site and online, @Large features a team of Art Guides positioned at each of the installations.

The Art Guides will provide additional background about the creation of the works, the history of the locations, and the themes of the exhibition, and use social media to communicate about the experience of the exhibition to those who are unable to visit Alcatraz.The exhibition is organized by the FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

  • Installation view, New Industries Building, Alcatraz. Courtesy of For-Site FoundationInstallation view, New Industries Building, Alcatraz. Courtesy of For-Site Foundation
  • Installation view, New Industries Building, Alcatraz. Courtesy of For-Site FoundationInstallation view, New Industries Building, Alcatraz. Courtesy of For-Site Foundation

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Ai Weiwei's portrait from the artist's facebook page

Ai Weiwei

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