Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

@Large Ai WeiWei

I have been many times in San Francisco, but never on Alcatraz. A jail, why should I ? But this time it is different. We read an article about the exhibition of Ai WeiWei on Alcatraz and it was clear to us that we want to go. The only way to go to the exhibition, that means to the island of Alcatraz, is to take the „Tourist Ferry Boat“ how I call it. Queuing for the ticket, queuing for the boat, standing in the full boat….., but we want to see the exhibition. So let’s go.

Arriving on Alcatraz a nice tour guide tries to get everybody’s attention explaining what we should do and how we should explore the island. We’d rather start our walk to the first part of the exhibition. The „model industrial building“, up on the hill. Walking in the first hall a huge dragon head greets you from the ceiling. My first impression: Nice, but similar to many other Dragons I have seen in movies or in real, not extremely exciting. Even though the colors are really amazing. The dragons body curling through the hall. Curious about the lego parts, we move on rather quickly. The second hall. 1,2 millions lego parts. All on the floor. All showing faces of women and men being in prison for their conviction or political belief. How can one catch 1,2 lego pieces and 176 persons in one large hall. Boring ? Impressive ? Something else, that I just cannot realize ? Ok, let’s take some pictures. That takes time and also sometimes opens a different perspective. Pictures taken. Is there more than just this 1,2 lego pieces ? I was not sure until I had to leave as my daughter had to visit the washrooms. The young lady told us, there are only two places on the hole island and we are exactly in the middle. So either climb up the hill and come back or go down hill again and come back. We decided to go down hill. It took quite a while until we entered the halls the second time. And, how amazing. Walking in the second time was so different. The dragon was already familiar. Lovely seeing the colors, knowing what comes next we walked slowly along the dragons body enjoying now the body rings of the dragon. It seems that they have been made with a lot of passion and love. The colors are bright and match perfectly together. This time it is really a pleasure and could last for ever.

Now the „lego hall“. Is there also a difference being the second time here ? Yes, indeed. Still I did expect a little more fancy things having used 1,2 million lego parts, but being in such an authentic place with the mind of 176 persons, many of them still alive, is quite impressing. Now I realize how much this topic fits into the hall. The hall, a place, in which I normally would not spend a minute, represents all the harm and sorrow all those people must have and had. They are just sitting there, mute, but with pride. Each single one on its own, mostly without connection to each other in real life, brought together from Ai WeiWei. Breathtaking !
It might be interesting what each of them has done in her or his life, but it is even more interesting what all of them do with our lifes. Being in such a community raises the questions: Is there more we, each single person of us, can – should – wants to do in order to make the world different. This place, the lego persons, but also all the volunteers who make this possible is inspiration for all of us. No matter how small the contribution is, it counts !

Second part. Now is the time to go uphill. The second part of the exhibition is in the actual jail. Before you get to the music installation you have to walk along the jail cells. Not my favorite thing to do, I admit. The cells are small and full of pain. Walking along those cells you feel the pain. For the exhibition there have been put stools into a couple of cells, exactly speaking one stool in one cell. Clean silver simple chairs. You can sit on the chair and listen to the unique music in this cell. In such case you have to go into the small pain cell and stay inside to listen. I decided not to do so.

With this odd feeling we went to the dining room to see the last part of the exhibition. It does not look like an exhibition. Only a lot of people, tables and shelters. Coming closer, we can see that on the shelters there are a lot of different kind of postcards. Bald eagle, flowers, etc. The volunteer explains to us that we can write postcards to the „lego persons“ and that they will send out all the written postcards once a week. Now this gets real. Just coming from a surreal jail cell into a world where you can make connection to all the living people seen in the lego hall. Imagine: Your written words will actually find their way to the people who are honored in the first part of the exhibition. What a finish. Overwhelming !

 

Reisetagebuch ( Spielplatz in San Francisco / Playground in San Francisco )

Instead of a photo of the Ai Weiwei exhibition as I am not sure if I can publish them. But I will clarify this and follow up

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