I have come to think of 2015 as my ‘year off’ from Spokane. It was a year of travel up and down the West coast, and 4 amazing months in Maui. I had some wonderful art experiences along the way, and I’d like to collect them all in a series of posts. Here is the first part:
@Large by Ai Weiwei – Alcatraz Island
Probably one of the greatest art installations I’ll ever see in my lifetime was that of Ai Wei Wei, who’s ceramic, Lego, paper, audio and found materials took over one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, Alcatraz Island. As an employee of the ferry boat company, I was lucky to view these works multiple times.
Standing in the old federal penitentiary, it was incredible to realize that these works were all created while the artist was (and still is) living under house arrest at his home in China. He orchestrated the whole show from China, never setting foot in the venue or interacting with his audience. Many volunteers helped pull off this multi-month installation.
“Privacy is a function of Liberty” -Edward Snowden
Quotes and statements about freedom of speech were included in some of the dragon’s brightly colored paper segments.
It is worth noting that the US State Department had to give clearance for this show to take place. After all, this is federal land and the artist is one of China’s most controversial artists/prisoners of concience.
Just beyond the big paper dragon is the Lego portrait installation. Using colored Lego bricks, Ai Weiwei created portraits of prisoners of concience. A. Large binder of biographies was available to view on podiums. Each Lego face has represents a human being whose struggle against censorship and injustice resulted in jail time.
This huge metal wing, constructed of found materials, floats in the upper story of the New Industries Building. Prisoners used to be put to work doing assembly work and laundry in this facility.
This section of the cell block contained a row cells, each with an audio clip playing on loop. Audio samples include music by Pussy Riot and a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. One could sit in each cell, pondering the life of an artist or historical figure and imagine their time spent behind bars. Each audio piece represnted prisoners of concience much like Ai Weiwei.
As tourists reach the prisoner’s cafeteria portion of their audio tour, they can put their audio device on pause and write a letter to a prisoner of concience. I happened to visit on Christmas Eve, so I wrote a couple of Christmas notes. A volunteer was stationed here to provide writing utensils and a bit of encouragement. There was a huge binder filled with names and bios of prisoners from around the world. There were journalists and activists of all kinds.
Another angle of the toilet with ceramic flower installation, behind bars.
If you like this blog post, I recommend further reading at the FOR-SITE foundation website.