Saturday, April 11, 2015

Seeing more work by Ai Weiwei

Yesterday I went with my sister Annie & my cousin Naomi & her family to @Large, Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz.

This show has held a special fascination for me because I have seen Ai Weiwei's work from time in Vancouver, but more importantly, in Brooklyn last year.

So first, photos of what I saw before that I photographed.
This was part of a large block sculpture using scrap wood (I imagine, from demolition in China).
Ai Weiwei has done a lot with ceramics. These are his pots, fashioned after the famous Ming Dynasty ones, I think.

There is a famous 'stunt' he did of him dropping a Ming Dynasty pot to call into question what's 'valuable' & who decides. Cheeky!!
And this below looks like a classic old vessel onto which he stenciled an all-too-familiar logo. Great juxtaposition. Dada!
The documentation below of all the possessions of a woman evicted so redevelopment of a neighborhood could be done.... I think I have that right.... or was she a dissident... I forget...
The boxes were her for all her things.

Commentary of Chinese bike culture, gradually being replaced by car & scooter culture.
Ei Weiwei has a bunch of flowers each day in his bike basket in China. He will continue to do this until he gets his passport back.
He was incarcerated in 2011 for 89 days & when released authorities kept his passport, which is why he couldn't go to Alcatraz. This is not his bike.

In Vancouver this year at the VAG was this amazing installation....

The elements are classically made 3-legged stools. These were very common household objects.

This is one of the ways he works, in multiples, like with the bikes. In Brooklyn he had also gathered rebar from the terrible earthquake & had put them into a long sculpture/collective of them straightened, forming what looked something like a roadway. There was also a wall of all the names and ages of children who had perished in the ill-constructed schools that collapsed in that earthquake. The government was very reluctant to gather or release all the names, so he did it through his own networks.

Now on to Alcatraz. This was a project that went three ways: Ai in China, Cheryl James from the Fore-Site Foundation, & the National Park Service on Alcatraz. Somewhere along the way I thought the Smithsonian was involved, but I didn't find mention of it in the book I bought.
What I want to show you is not just his work, but what I saw that grabbed me.
I loved this logo! Ai is @Large in China, but not @Large in the world, yet somehow he got to Alcatraz. Wings!
First views of the island.

Alcatraz has a long history back to 1850, lighthouse, military prison, prison for Hopis resisting giving their children up to residential schools, & eventually a federal prison which closed in 1963. It was re-claimed 1969-71 by AIM & finally made into a National Park.
Below two shots of the Officers meeting & dining hall, & maybe living quarters too.

Ruins reminding me in the airiness of Greece, though I've never been there. 
The supply storage building, below.
                We didn't go into this building. It was an old cell block.

The first building I actually went into was called the New Industries Building. It was built between 1939 & 1941. What went on in there: laundry for the prison & for the military of the San Fransisco area, brush-making, uniform-sewing, glove-making, furniture making. It was a privilege to work there. Armed guards were on an narrow high-up corridor overlooking the room where the inmates worked guarded by by unarmed guards. That upper corridor was called the gun-gallery. 
In this drab setting these kites are stunning.

Birds & dragons, symbols of freedom because of being able to fly. You can see a woman in the gun-gallery, looking down.
I didn't notice her till later.

Gradually I began to spot the dragon segments that had quotes. I didn't photograph them all, because I didn't see them all.

I love the repeat bird images on the wings to create feathers!

Daring thought.

The next room had Lego portraits of other prisoners-of-conscience from all over the world. There were two books where you could look them up, to see what they had done. The only ones I knew were Martin Luther King & Edward Snowden. 

Some of these portraits were assembled by Ai, & some in San Fransisco according to his directions. The white backgrounds were done in California.
There was also a place where you could write postcards to one of these people in prison, but I was too baffled by it to even try, but many do.
While I was in that room I took flight with my camera looking at the windows. Oh my!!

Honey-bee connections....
But that wasn't all.... suddenly I saw fixtures...

Later, up in the gun gallery we had a view of another sculpture.
It was a metal wing weighing 5 tons +, but made from solar panels originally used on Tibetan solar cookers. You had to walk past these kind of windows to see it. Very somber.

The wing looked very confined.

On the way into the next building....

...And and into the cell block. It was a shock.
I was sure I would go mad in such a prison.
Above, the shower fixtures, below the cells four floors of them... or was it three....

I didn't bother to take a picture of Al Capone's cell, but many did.
It was overwhelmingly depressing, hard to imagine 'living' there.
The next place I went was to the hospital area. They had to create that on the island because there was too much risk taking the men off-island for any treatment.
The operating room... there was a dental room too, but the chair was long gone....
Some kind of supply room....
The hydro-therapy room....
The room given to the famous Birman of Alcatraz who was a hypochondriac & disruptive enough to require isolation.
The porcelain white flowers are for hope, dignity, comfort (as you would try to give to a hospital patient). They also refer to an event in Chinese dissident history & to pieces of Ai Weiwei's father's demeaning work done during his 're-education' during the Cultural Revolution.

While there I did another visual detour to paint-cracking. No surprise.

As we left the island I spotted this sign.
That's it for now.

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