... among other things -- on Wednesday I finally got to Alcatraz Island, and the Ai Wei Wei exhibit. It is so moving ... so important. It will close in April, which is much too soon.
Learning about how it was executed -- with the artist still confined under house arrest in China and unable to participate in the installation except by long distance, and with the involvement of local artists who used his designs through detailed instructions to fabricate the disparate pieces into reality. They're astounding! The Kite; the Wing -- the stories that came to us through interpretive Ranger John Cantwell and his 28 years of working on the Island ... .
There was a moment when standing among the reproductions (in Legos) of a worldwide collection of images of political prisoners -- when I felt a sensory overload and had to momentarily withdraw -- to remove myself from that place into myself and away from the present by turning my back on the exhibit to look out of one of the multitude of windows toward the beautiful Golden Gate ... .
The experience was beyond surreal.
Alcatraz has a visitation of 5000 tourists a day; one million per year. Ferries are boarded at Pier 33 in San Francisco; 300/trip, and tourists from every state and nation arrive every half hour throughout the day, with every boat trip sold out. While my friend, Ann, and I were being guided by Ranger Cantwell, there was a brief exchange with a group of four young people who were visiting from Sweden; a reminder of how far-reaching is the influence of this work of Wei Wei and the long arm of the National Park Service which has enabled this remarkable cultural exchange.
I was not prepared for the beauty of the site that is not as overwhelmed by the desolation and decay as one might expect. Though the evidence of its lengthy Armed Forces history plus the 49 years of life as the nation's infamous maximum security prison are clearly dominant, the beautiful historic gardens and Mediterranean-like site is much as one might have expected to find somewhere in Italian waters.
And, as we boarded the ferry for the scenic trip back to Pier 33 the captain allowed me to take the wheel for a while and guide the vessel back to shore -- with 300 unsuspecting tourists on the decks below!