“Any artist who is not an activist is a dead artist.”
Wise words from Ai Weiwei, Chinese contemporary artist and activist who is currently restricted from traveling outside of China. Back in 2011, he was detained for 81 days in a 12′ by 24′ room with military police watching his every move 24 hours a day without any official charges; tax evasion was later brought up as the reason.
Ai has also been accused by the Chinese authorities for an alleged “subversion of state power” over his outspoken political criticism expressed to the media and via blog posts and Twitter.
“The Artist is Absent” features Ai’s sculpture, sound, and mixed-media installations in the notorious former prison in San Francisco Bay. The majority of the installations are located in areas that are usually restricted to the public, but will be open throughout the run of the exhibition.
“@Large turns Alcatraz into a space for dialogue about how we define liberty and justice, individual rights and personal responsibility. In artworks that balance political impact with aesthetic grace, the exhibition directly and imaginatively addresses the situation of people around the world who have been deprived of their freedom for speaking out about their beliefs — people like Ai himself.”
It started in the mid-2000s when Ai was invited to start blogging by Sina Weibo, the biggest internet platform in China. In Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009, Ai talks about taking advantage of this outlet and how for three years he “turned out a steady stream of scathing social commentary, criticism of government policy, thoughts on art and architecture, and autobiographical writings.”
The blog was consequentially shut down in 2009 by Sina because Ai’s increasingly popular blog was centered around his criticism of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and Beijing Olympic Games which Ai was actually part of the team that assisted in creating the “bird’s nest” stadium for that years games.
The Fake Case, a documentary released in May of last year focuses on a specific charge of $2.1 million in tax evasion through Fake Ltd, a company he owns. In the trailer, Ai says “my phone is tapped, wherever I go they know. I also have no secrets. I always tell them, I have no secrets, you have secrets.” Since then he has turned to Twitter and writes prolifically over the platform, claiming at least 8 hours online every day. He tweets almost exclusively in Chinese on the account @aiww.
“The Artist is Absent” will run from September 27, 2014, through April 26, 2015, and will be open to visitors who purchase the normal Alcatraz ticket.