@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

June 24, 2014  |   Feature,   Initiatives,   World
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Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei prepares to open a new show "@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz" in September 2014. The installation will feature seven large-scale works that will probably amount to the most extraordinary use of the old federal penitentiary since the Indian occupation of 1969.
Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei prepares to open a new show “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz” in September 2014. The installation will feature seven large-scale works that will probably amount to the most extraordinary use of the old federal penitentiary since the Indian occupation of 1969.

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is internationally renowned both as a maker of potent and provocative art and as a passionate advocate for human rights and freedom of expression. His art and ideas find a compelling new context in this exhibition of works created specifically for Alcatraz — a 19th-century military fortress, a notorious federal penitentiary, a site of Native American heritage and protest, and now one of America’s most visited national parks.

@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

Chinese authorities confiscated Ai’s passport three years ago and have refused to return it, barring him from traveling abroad. Ai has been forced to develop the Alcatraz works in his Beijing studio and will have to remotely manage the installation of the show, whose themes deal with incarceration, freedom of expression and activism.

Ai's sculpture, sound and mixed-media works will occupy four locations in the old prison: the New Industries Building, A Block, the dining hall and the hospital, according to For-Site. With the exception of the dining hall, the exhibition spaces were previously off-limits to visitors.
Ai’s sculpture, sound and mixed-media works will occupy four locations in the old prison: the New Industries Building, A Block, the dining hall and the hospital, according to For-Site. With the exception of the dining hall, the exhibition spaces were previously off-limits to visitors.

The artist has not shared specifics of the show yet. Weiwei would say only that it’s “a heavy topic” but that it also will have a “light touch” that will “make people remember.”

Lots of speculation!

Remember the Venice Biennale of art where viewers stepped on a block and, peering through a small slit on top of the box, they saw lifelike dioramas of Ai Weiwei as a political prisoner inside a padded prison cell, always under double guard?

Weiwei's six iron boxes were part the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale of Arts in Venice, northern Italy. The work on display was called S.A.C.R.E.D. The four initials standing for supper, accuser, cleansing, ritual, entropy and doubt, and referring to Ai Weiwei time 81 days in detention in 2011.
Weiwei’s six iron boxes were part the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale of Arts in Venice, northern Italy. The work on display was called S.A.C.R.E.D. The four initials standing for supper, accuser, cleansing, ritual, entropy and doubt, and referring to Ai Weiwei time 81 days in detention in 2011.
Pictured is one of the most powerful scenes that illustrates the prisoner's physical vulnerability. —Looking down, the viewer sees Ai Weiwei covered by a blanket, lying flat on his back, with two guards standing just a few inches away from the cot and guarding him all night long as he sleeps.
Pictured is one of the most powerful scenes that illustrates the prisoner’s physical vulnerability. —Looking down, the viewer sees Ai Weiwei covered by a blanket, lying flat on his back, with two guards standing just a few inches away from the cot and guarding him all night long as he sleeps.

Memorable installations have included the “The Unilever Series”:

Acclaimed as the “seeds of hope”, a work of “part prophecy, part threat”, an installation intriguingly “contemplative and barbed”, Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds has been exhibited in various versions at 12 galleries across 11 cities, 9 countries since 2009. In 2012, the Des Moines Art Center acquired Weiwei's 2009 version "Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds)".
Acclaimed as the “seeds of hope”, a work of “part prophecy, part threat”, an installation intriguingly “contemplative and barbed”, Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds has been exhibited in various versions at 12 galleries across 11 cities, 9 countries since 2009. In 2012, the Des Moines Art Center acquired Weiwei’s 2009 version “Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds)”.
Weiwei's commission at Tate Modern, Sunflower Seeds, is made up of millions of hand-crafted porcelain seeds. Tate Modern s Britain's national gallery of international modern art. Weiwei said: "In China, when we grew up, we had nothing … But for even the poorest people, the treat or the treasure we’d have would be the sunflower seeds in everybody’s pockets. ...It’s a work about mass production and repeatedly accumulating the small effort of individuals to become a massive, useless piece of work. "
Weiwei’s commission at Tate Modern, Sunflower Seeds, is made up of millions of hand-crafted porcelain seeds. Tate Modern s Britain’s national gallery of international modern art. Weiwei said: “In China, when we grew up, we had nothing … But for even the poorest people, the treat or the treasure we’d have would be the sunflower seeds in everybody’s pockets. …It’s a work about mass production and repeatedly accumulating the small effort of individuals to become a massive, useless piece of work. “

Cheryl Haines, FOR-SITE Foundation founding executive director, is organizing the exhibition @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz.