Ai Weiwei [@Large] on Alcatraz Island
Last week, we took a few days to head up to the Bay Area to visit @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, an innovative and socially relevant large-scale public art project at one of California's most well-known historic sites.
Ai’s sculpture, sound, and mixed-media installations occupy four locations: the New Industries Building; a group of cells in A Block; the Hospital; and the Dining Hall. With the exception of the Dining Hall, these areas are usually restricted to the public, but all are open throughout the exhibition. @Large turns Alcatraz into a space for dialogue about how we define liberty and justice, individual rights and personal responsibility. In artworks that balance political impact with aesthetic grace, the exhibition directly and imaginatively addresses the situation of people around the world who have been deprived of their freedom for speaking out about their beliefs — people like Ai himself. [for-site foundation]
Restricted from travel outside of China, the artist and activist had to conceive, design and coordinate the complex works from his studio across the globe. The constraints of the process are a reflection of a central issue addressed by the installations, one that addresses freedom of expression and basic human rights.
Throughout the works the concept of tension- between freedom and oppression, access and restriction- is expressed in various sensory ways to create a relationship between the viewer, the environment, and the subject.
Whether that subject is symbolic, as the traditional handmade kites in With Wind, or representative of specific individuals, as in the oversized LEGO portraits at Trace, the experience adds impact to the commentary on the meaning of freedom and representation.
In this sense, the creative intervention at Alcatraz Island and the dialogue it warrants truly reflects Ai Weiwei's belief in 'the purpose of art, which is the fight for freedom.'
Find more information, images and details regarding the project, process and philosophy, visit For-Site.org.