One of the many pleasures of a quick trip back to the Bay Area for New Year's was the chance to see Ai Wei Wei's exhibit @Large on Alcatraz (getting up at 6 to catch the ferry and shelling out for the ferry tickets was another matter all together). Alcatraz is a strange place. It's close to San Francisco, but it's an island, and not a very big one at that, and the currents around it are strong enough that at certain times of day you can see them flowing so quickly they give the impression you're on a river, not a bay. It's full of flowering succulents, cypress and seabirds. And its strange isolation makes it all the more beautiful, with sweeping views of the city, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge, Mt. Tam, and Sausalito. And, for a hundred years or so, starting with Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War, it was a prison. And not just for the likes of Al Capone - Hopi leaders who objected to sending tribal children to U.S. government run boarding schools and religious objectors to the WWI-era military were imprisoned here.
All of which makes it an excellent site for @Large, which is meant as an exploration of prisoners of conscious, mostly those imprisoned for their political beliefs around the world. The installations are scattered throughout the standing buildings, including the main cell block and hospital wing. Many used sound: poetry prisoners had written in jail, or the songs and speeches which had gotten them arrested. The pictures below (click through) are from the first installation, a series of kites in what was the prison's New Industries building, where the well-behaved prisoners on Alcatraz were allowed to work. First, you walked through the exhibit on the ground floor, where the prisoners worked, then doubled back to look down from a narrow catwalk called the gun gallery, where armed guards would have watched the prisoners.