Yours Truly : @Large

Gull Staircase Alcatraz

Yours Truly was a really beautiful component of the Ai WeiWei’s work @Large on Alcatraz.  Located in the former dining hall of the penitentiary, visitors of the exhibition were invited to write postcards to the political prisoners whose individual stories were outlined in binders that were laid out on tables. The postcards were printed with the national bird or flower of that prisoner’s country and the cards were to be delivered as part of the exhibit. People wrote how they were touched by that prisoner’s plight, about the exhibit itself, gave encouragement to the prisoners or even drew pictures!  It was a great outlet for visitors to get involved and engaged and it was surely gratifying for those on the receiving end to know that so many thousands of people were thinking of them and learning about their cause.

Alcatraz was originally named La Isla de los Alcatraces (Pelican Island), and as there is this lovely theme of birds (which are associated with messengers and freedom) and flowers (which are associated with a flourishing fertility) throughout @Large (birds and flowers on the kites and in the poetry, blossoms in the the tubs, sinks and toilets) I thought it would be appropriate to show some of the birds and flowers of Alcatraz.

Gull Staircase Alcatraz


Yours Truly  Postcards


Ruin - Alcatraz


Alcatraz Ruins


Alcatraz- firecracker fuchsia


Alcatraz Garden


Alcatraz Seagulls


Gulls in the flowering ruins


Alcatraz - Flowers


Pelicans flying away from Alcatraz

Trace : @Large

Trace - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace was an installation of the Lego portraits of 170 political prisoners on the floor of the New Industries Building at Alcatraz. Artist Ai WeiWei designed the portraits and planned the layout using site schematics from his studio in Beijing then had the curatorial team from For-Site piece it all together in San Francisco. Lego is and interesting medium, a popular medium,  all these little pieces that come together to make something big and colorful and powerful can be easily broken down into it’s individual pieces, but without loosing the potential to come together again and again. Our voice as a people or a group is like that too. Some may be silenced , but others will surface and continue to speak.

Trace - At Large - Ai WeiWei

There were a number of binders available to learn more about the the individuals  depicted on the floor, including this entry for Lolo.

Trace Binder (detail)

Trace (detail) - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace (detail) - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace (detail) - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace (detail) - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace (detail) - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace (detail) - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace (detail) - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace (detail) - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace (detail) - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace (detail) - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace  - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace (detail) - At Large - Ai WeiWei

Trace - Ai WeiWei At Large -throught the glass- Udaltsov

Trace - Ai WeiWei At Large -throught the glass - Snowden

Trace - Ai WeiWei At Large - through the glass

So many faces… there are so many others. We are the Lego and we need to come together for change.



In Tune : @Large

Alcatraz Penitentiary

That’s the penitentiary up at the top where the cell blocks and clinic were situated.  Cell Block A, where Ai WeiWei had his audio installation In Tune, looks out of this side of the building.

Looking down the line at Cell Block A, where each cell has the music or poetry of imprisoned political dissidents piped in from the air vents.

Cell Block A - Virgin Mary Put Putin Away (Punk Prayer)

A stainless steel stool was placed in each cell so one could sit and identify with the political prisoner while listening to the piece that either was inspired by the imprisonment or the sort that garnered it. Above was the cell devoted to Pussy Riot (from Russia) with their punk prayer, Virgin Mary Put Putin Away blaring away, here’s a taste below, click to listen:


In Tune - Ai WeiWei At Large on Alcatraz - Cell Block A - Pussy Riot Wall


Cell Block A - Toxika by Plastic People of the World

Toxika, Plastic People of the Universe (Czech)

Cell Block A - A Homesick Sparrow, Mahjoub Sharif

A Homesick Sparrow, Mahjoub Sharif (Sudanese)

Cell Block A - Raise the Tibetn Flag Children of the Snowland, Lolo

Raise the Tibetan Flag Children of the Snowland, Lolo (Tibetan)

Cell Block A - In this Dead-End Street, Ahmad Shamlu

In This Dead-End Street, Ahmad Shamlu (Iranian) had a heartbreaking line, “Songbird kebab roasts over flames of lily and jasmine”.

Cell Block A - Victor Jara, Manifesto

Manifesto, Victor Jara (Chilean)

Cell Block A - Sorrow Tears and Blood, Fela Kuti

Sorrow Tears and Blood, Fela Kuti (Nigerian)

Door to cell


One of the cells was for Martin Luther King Jr, I thought I’d close with this quote from his speech that was playing.

Martin Luther King Jr quote

Blossom : @Large

Ai Weiwei chose the clinic of Alcatraz as the setting for the site-specific installation Blossom. In this piece he filled the original porcelain fixtures, the bathtubs, sinks and toilets with masses of porcelain flowers. Looking like frothy bubbles from a distance, a closer inspection reveals this hopeful flowering.  It’s a stunning, subtle work, such a contrast between the dirty and sickly connotations of the clinic’s bathrooms and the flourishing purity of the flowers,  I find it profound that the same material, porcelain could convey both of these extremes.

Clinic -Alcatraz              Clinic at Alcatraz            Bath Tub - Clinic - Alcatraz


 Bath Cell - Alcatraz            Ai Wei Wei - Blossom - Alcatraz          Ai Wei Wei - Blossom - Alcatraz


Ai Wei Wei - Blossom - Alcatraz


Ai Wei Wei - Blossom - Alcatraz


Ai Wei Wei - Blossom Bath - Alcatraz


Ai Wei Wei - Blossom - Alcatraz


Blossom (detail)

With Wind : @Large

I finally made it to the groundbreaking exhibition, @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz just before it ended! This island penitentiary (having imprisoned civil war political prisoners, conscientious objectors in WWI, and being occupied by Native American protestors) was the perfect site to work with themes of personal freedom, freedom of expression and concerns with political oppression.

Alcatraz April 21, 2015


When San Francisco’s For-Site Executive Director, Cheryl Haines  (and @Large Curator) had approached internationally acclaimed artist, Ai WeiWei in his confinement in China with the idea of exhibiting at Alcatraz, it was a perfect fit. Ai Weiwei was able to work remotely from his studio in Beijing developing and directing this site-specific installation.

Visiting @Large


With Wind was an installation of handmade painted kites made of paper, silk and bamboo that wound its way through one of the main factory floors of the New Industries Building on Alcatraz in which inmates used to work in laundry or manufacturing. The kites, a symbol of soaring freedom, delicate and fragile (like us) are able to reach great heights with wind, the wind being a metaphor for our voices. Interestingly, the word akasha in Sanskrit, which means open space and sky, is also associated with wind and voice. These kites, especially the dragon, seemed barely contained in this space and there was a sense of optimism implicit in their bright colors and imagery of massing birds. The dragon’s head was oriented to an open door, primed for escape and emblazoned with Ai Weiwei’s name in it’s brows and Twitter icons on it’s eyes. Throughout the length of the dragon there were quotes from prisoners of conscience.

Mouth of the dragon.


Twitter Icon pupils and flaming Ai weiwei brows featured on the Dragon’s Head.

Dragon head


Dragon head (side view)




The dragon positioned to fly out the open door.

Winding overhead


 My words are innocent and well intended


“My words are well intended and innocent.” – Lê Quôc Quân

Out Disgusting Dictator


“Ze Du Out Disgusting Dictator.” –  Nito Alves

Privacy…is a function of Liberty


“…privacy is a function of liberty.” – Edward Snowden

 Potential Convict


“Everyone of us is a potential Convict: – Ai Weiwei

Hand made kites - bird



Traditional hand made kites are still being crafted in Beijing. I was luck enough to visit one such shop, Three Stones Kite Store, in 2008 and took home a silk swallow, which represents the city.  Here Ai Weiwie has had his birds painted with his own imagery.

Wing detail


Birds taking wing, flocking together, flowers blossoming.

Hand made kites - star and cranes


Hand made kites - double bird


Hand made kites - double bird detail


There is a Chinese legend that goes back to 559 AD when two brothers flew from a dungeon by sitting on a kite one of them had made to rescue his brother. I wonder if this two headed bird is associated with that story?

Hand made kites - double birds


 Hand made kites as seen through gun gallery.


Kites seen through the gun gallery.

Head of dragon kite as seen through gun gallery.


Last glimpse of the dragon kite though the gun gallery where most of the glass was either broken or missing.