Ai Weiwei Is Filling Alcatraz With A LEGO Showcase

There is something resolutely apposite about Chinese activist-artist Ai Weiwei exhibiting in the derelict Alcatraz island prison, considering the artist’s ‘difficult’ – yet seemingly quite beneficial – relationship with the Chinese government; and beginning from the 27th September, visitors to Alcatraz Island will get to see something of an interesting juxtaposition; the ex-prison will be filled by the recent political prisoner, with a very large quantity of LEGO.

The artist told the NY Times: “Even now, I am still in a soft detention, my passport withheld by the state and my right to move freely across borders restricted,” he explained in a series of lengthy email exchanges with the publication.

The exhibition by the acclaimed Chinese artist will feature 176 portraits of prisoners of conscience, and political exiles from around the world. These will include the South African leader Nelson Mandela, the Tibetan pop singer Lolo, and even the American governmental whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Yet the exhibition will not include any self-portraits of the artist himself.

The work can be seen at the notorious location of some ‘not so’ political prisoners until 26th April 2015. The show is quite fittingly called “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz,” – and has been organized by For-Site, a San Francisco producer of public art, in the prison hospital, A Block cells, dining hall – and that former laundry building.

The installation will be composed of 1.2 million Lego pieces, and set in the New Industries Building; made up of political prisoners and exiles made from LEGO blocks, and will be titled ‘Trace’, which will feature the plastic forms of people – who – as of June of this year; were either in prison, or exiled due of their political beliefs and affiliations. Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at Alcatraz may be one of the most hotly anticipated US contemporary art show of the 2014.

Cheryl Haines, the exhibition’s curator, told the San Francisco Chronicle: “I’m overwhelmed by how remarkable it looks, this is the face of the individual in the fight for freedom, but it’s also a collective statement and to see the density and quantity of people that are incorporated in this work, I find deeply moving.”

The 176 LEGO portraits were started at Ai Weiwei’s studio in Beijing and were later completed by a group of 90 volunteer LEGO experts over the course of three weeks, on site at Alcatraz.

The installation is made up of the figurative LEGO sculptures spread out over a space as large as a football field – and is composed to evoke the layout of a cemetery. The US show will also coincide with another Ai Weiwei exhibition across the pond, in a far more stately environment than the famed prison; at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, UK, the birthplace of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.

“@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz” – 27 September until 26 April 2015.

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