Ai Wei Wei is a prolific Chinese artist currently under house arrest in China has designed an art installation on Alcatraz Island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz is most well known as a federal prison but also was a 19th century fortress prior to that, and after it was closed as a penitentiary, became a site of a Native American occupation and protest, and is now a National Park.
Ai Wei Wei has done numerous site specific installations. Here as with other installations, he communicates ironically through the art. On Alcatraz, the exhibit is called @Large. The artist was never allowed to visit the site or even leave his country – all the design and all but the final construction and installation was done remotely. There are symbols of flight, imprisonment, freedom of speech, and conflict, all installed in the intimidating environment of one of the nation’s formerly most high security prisons.
With the site specific art, there was much more than the thing installed. The art interacts with the space. As striking as the installations were of the dragon, the Lego portraits of freedom fighters and the large metal wing (I didn’t get a decent picture of that to upload), in the area called Stay Tuned, 12 individual cells features a different recordings spoken word, poetry, song and music by people who have been incarcerated for creative expression. This cell below, along with a row of others echoed with the voices of freedom fighters.In the hospital ward, pristine white glazed porcelain flowers bloom in sinks, bathtubs, toilets.Ironic comfort both pretty and sharp, inviting and not. All in a severe environment. All within clear sight of a beautiful city on the bay.
For more about @Large go here.