Free Speech @LARGE: AI WEIWEI ON ALCATRAZ
Despite the confiscation of Ai WeiWei’s passport by the Chinese government and a period of imprisonment documented in Alison Klayman’s 2012 documentary “Never Sorry,” the Chinese artist and free speech advocate continues to produce provocative international art exhibitions at a scale unimaginable for many artists, especially those confined to their studios like he is, in Beijing. He now must experience his own art installations via video and photo documentation, Skype, social and mainstream media representations. This situation in many ways echoes that of Edward Snowden, and both are consistently using virtual channels to disseminate their ideas and explore trans-governmental narratives.
The 2014 retrospective, Ai Weiwei: According to What? at the Brooklyn Museum included many pieces consistent with Ai WeiWei’s critique of the Chinese government, and the exploration of taboos, myths and traditions both East and West. His craftmanship and innovation in a variety of forms: installation, sculpture, film and photography rendered the show a moving tribute and an awe-inspiring experience.
And if you aren’t familiar with his incredibly active bi-lingual Twitter feed, @aiww, be sure to follow it.
This year’s big event for the artist, “@LARGE: AI WEIWEI ON ALCATRAZ” (September 27, 2014-April 26, 2015), presented by the FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the largest onsite exhibition ever hosted at Alcatraz.
To further underscore the controversial inter-governmental nature of the exhibition, no public funds were used for the 3.6 million dollar installation, and For-SITE curator Cheryl Haines had to obtain permission from the State Department to exhibition some of the works.
@Large will provoke visitors to consider the broader social implications of incarceration and the possibilities of art as an act of conscience.
The exhibition, takes place off the coast of San Francisco on the island of Alcatraz, a notorious prison site now overseen by the National Parks Service.
@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz will feature a series of seven site-specific installations by artist Ai Weiwei in four locations on Alcatraz Island, offering a new cultural lens through which to experience the notorious military and federal penitentiary turned national park. […] the exhibition explores urgent questions about human rights and freedom of expression and responds to the potent and layered history of Alcatraz as a place of detainment and protest. The large-scale sculpture, sound, and mixed-media works will be installed in the two-story New Industries Building where “privileged” inmates were permitted to work; the main and psychiatric wards of the Hospital; the A Block cells, the only remaining section of the military prison that was constructed in the early 20th century; and the Dining Hall. With the exception of the Dining Hall, these spaces are usually off limits to visitors, but all will be open to the public throughout the run of the exhibition.[…]
The main exhibition includes floorspace filled with LEGO-built portraits of 176 people from around the world who have been imprisoned or exiled due to their beliefs or affiliations, most still incarcerated at the time the artwork was made. And, unlike Ai WeiWei, whose global stature has protected him from further harm, many of these artists and writers and activists are unknown to the world.
Looks like I will have to book some tickets to the Bay Area before the exhibition closes in April.
Will I see you there?
What are your thoughts on this exhibition in the context of the United States incarceration rates, where 716 citizens out of 100,000 are imprisoned per year? Louisiana has the highest rate of all the states, with 1341 per 100,000 in jail. (Compare Norway at 72 per 100,000 and Britian at 147 per 100,000.) And by race, African Americans are jailed at a rate five times that of whites. I look forward to an exhibition and global dialogue that can turn around this trend. And it can at least in part be called “An End to the War on Drugs.”