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.
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.
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.
Twitter Icon pupils and flaming Ai weiwei brows featured on the Dragon’s Head.
The dragon positioned to fly out the open door.
“My words are well intended and innocent.” – Lê Quôc Quân
“Ze Du Out Disgusting Dictator.” – Nito Alves
“…privacy is a function of liberty.” – Edward Snowden
“Everyone of us is a potential Convict: – Ai Weiwei
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.
Birds taking wing, flocking together, flowers blossoming.
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?
Kites seen through the gun gallery.
Last glimpse of the dragon kite though the gun gallery where most of the glass was either broken or missing.