Supposedly there is a Chinese saying about revenge," If you seek revenge, dig two graves." The implication is that those who seek revenge are digging their own grave, but Chinese artist Ai Weiwei would beg to differ. Although he claims that his upcoming exhibit won't refer to his time in jail, there is no way to avoid the connection between his treatment and the yet-to-be created exhibit on Alcatraz Island. He plans to create a new body of site-specific art work on the island, the former federal penitentiary in the center of San Francisco Bay.
As a political activist, he has been openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called "tofu-dreg schools" in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of "economic crimes." An international uproar finally led to his release. He explored that experience in a series of sculptures created for the 2013 Venice Biennale.
In his proposed exhibit, opening on Alcatraz in 2014, he will be criticizing, however indirectly, the current Chinese government, their political system and their treatment of him and other political prisoners.
“I have too many friends today who are still in jail,” he told The New York Times. “The fact that people who are fighting for freedom have lost their freedom being incarcerated is more than ironic.”
Organized by the San Francisco–based nonprofit FOR-SITE Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, "Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz" will include a series of large-scale installations occupying sites on Alcatraz. Ai Weiwei will create new sculptural works, sound art, and multimedia pieces exploring themes central to the artist’s practice as well as his work as an activist.
This is the first time that the former prison in California will host a major arts exhibition. Ai's works have been selected so they will not disrupt the architecture or flow of visitors through the 22-acre site.
Cheryl Haines, Ai's intermediary at San Francisco nonprofit For-Site, says it's too early to discuss which of the artist's works will be on display in the former federal penitentiary, but Ai claims he won't be installing work that directly relates to his own time in behind bars. According to the Times, the works will be on display in the main prison building and another laundry building next door.
Despite finally gaining approval for his show, Ai will not be able to attend the exhibit in person. The Chinese government has stripped him of his right to travel. For this reason, he will also be absent from the opening of his first major survey at the Perez Museum opening tomorrow in Miami.
Those tickets regularly sell out months in advance and it's unclear at the moment if tickets during the exhibition period will go on sale earlier than usual.
“Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz” will run from Sept. 27, 2014 to April 26, 2015.
Update from the San Francisco Chronicle on the specifics: "It took San Francisco gallerist Cheryl Haines three trips to China in the past six months, but she has just finalized what she went for: a site-specific installation on Alcatraz by Ai Weiwei, the prominent Chinese activist-artist." http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Ai-Weiwei-Alcatraz-installation-finalized-5034805.php