Ai Wei Wei's multifaceted installation”@Large” is currently on view at Alcatraz island in the San Francisco bay. One component is this porcelain piece entitled “Blossoms” 

From the artist: “The misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned. This is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill.”

Ai Weiwei’s exhibition on Alcatraz will be open through April 26, 2015

via thisiscolossal


Alcatraz Escape 1962

In September 1961 Frank Morris,  Allen West, and John and Clarence Anglin were planning an escape attempt in Alcatraz, which they carried out on the night of June 11, 1962.  They fabricated dummy heads from a mixture of soap, toilet paper and real hair, and left them in their beds to fool prison officers making night-time inspections. They escaped from their cells by crawling through holes in the cell walls which they had dug with spoons over the course of a year. This put them into an unused service corridor. West could not make it out of his cell and was left behind.

From the service corridor they climbed a ventilation shaft to reach the roof. The trio then climbed down from the rooftop, scaled the prison’s fence and assembled a raft from the prison’s standard-issue raincoats and contact cement. They pumped up the raft on the northeastern coast of the island. At around 10 p.m. they climbed aboard, shoved off, and started paddling. Security guards brushed off the loud sound of the shaft smashing through the roof as nothing serious. Since nothing more was heard, the issue was left unpursued. (x)

Porcelain Blossoms spill out of Alcatraz Bathroom Fixtures in Ai Wei Wei Installation

Now through April 26, 2015, the infamous fortress and prison, Alcatraz will house new perspectives the stories of those that were imprisoned within its walls. Contemporary artist and social activist, Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition @Large was created especially for the location, the work features seven different art installs that raise questions and hopefully create more awareness on social injustice, human rights and freedom of expression…

Read more on HAHA MAG


Ai Weiwei, Blossom, 2014; photo: Jan Stürmann.

@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz
27 September 2014 - 26 April 2015
on Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay, CA
Organised by FOR-SITE Foundation

Functional fixtures found in a number of the hospital ward cells and medical offices were transformed into fine porcelain bouquets (reflecting the symbolic gesture of sending a bouquet to someone who is unwell). The series of ceramic flowers designed by Ai Weiwei has been used to fill sinks, toilets and bath tubs. The impact is on the one hand graceful and on the other cold, almost emblematic of death.

Obit of the Day (Historical): “The Birdman of Alcatraz” (1963)

Robert Stroud was a two-time convicted killer with no formal education, diagnosed as a psychopath, and spent 42 years in solitary confinement. At the same time his IQ was recorded at 134, he was a publsihed author, and discovered a cure for a deadly bird ailment, all while living in prison cell for nearly three-quarters of his life.

Mr. Stroud killed his first man in 1909. Working as a pimp in Juneau, Alaska, he shot and killed a bartender who had beaten one of his prostitutes and did not pay his full fee. The bartender lost his life over $8.00.

Convicted on manslaughter, rather than murder, Mr. Stroud, then only 19 years old, was sentenced to to McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington State. While there he was considered a dangerous inmate, frequently getting into fights, even stabbing a fellow inmate. His actions earned him six additional months on his 12-year sentence. He was also transferred to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.

Arriving in 1912, Mr. Stroud’s reputation as a troublemaker continued. Seemingly unable to fit into the culture, other prisoners were frightened of him. In 1916, things took a turn for the worse. Denied a visit with his younger brother after a minor rule infraction, Mr. Stroud in a fit of vengeful rage attacked Andrew Turner, the guard who cancelled the visit. In front of 1100 inmates, Mr. Stroud stabbed Mr. Turner in the chest repeatedly with a homemade weapon, killing him.

For this, Mr. Stroud was moved into solitary confinement. At trial for the murder he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. His appeals trial upheld the sentence. Mr. Stroud’s death appeared inevitable as he watched from his cell window as the gallows were built.

But Mr. Stroud’s mother began a vigorous campaign to free her son, eventually writing letters to President Woodrow Wilson and his wife Edith Boling Wilson. In 1920 the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. (It’s interesting to note that at this point in his presidency Wilson was completely incapacitated by a stroke and his wife was probably the person who arranged for the commutation.)

The one request made by the warden of Leavenworth is that Mr. Stroud’s solitary confinement remain in place. And it was.

The same year that he avoided his death sentence Mr. Stround found a nest of sparrows in the Leavenworth courtyard and nursed the baby birds back to health. This lead to a greater fascination with birds and a growing collection of canaries. A new warden took charge of the prison and saw Mr. Stroud’s hobby as a method of rehabilition.

For the next 22 years, Mr. Stroud raised and studied more than 300 canaries in his cell. His collection grew so large that he was given a second cell just for his birds, at a time when overcrowding was a concern.

Mr. Stroud trained himself in orinthology and his work with canaries led to the publication of two books while incarcerated. His first book, Diseases of Canaries (1933), was actually smuggled out of the prison chapter-by-chapter. The author’s notoriety increased sales but scientists regarded the text as scientifically sound. He published an updated version of the book, Stroud’s Digest of the Diseases of Birds ten years later. Mr. Stroud also found a cure for avian hemorraghic septicemia.

By 1942, though, the administration was fed up with Mr. Stroud’s growing fame and overwhelming hobby. (At one point, President Hoover received 50,000 letters supporting Mr. Stroud’s work when he was threatened with having his birds taken from him. The president intervened on the convict’s behalf.) It also didn’t help that he was also brewing alcohol in his cell using equipment provided by the warden. So Mr. Stroud was transferred to Alcatraz where he became inmate #594.

Mr. Stroud was intentionally sent to the island off of San Francisco because the Leavenworth warden knew he could not keep his birds there. Without his companions, Mr. Stroud simply re-focused his writing and research. While in Alcatraz, still kept in solitary confinment, he penned his autobiography titled Bobbie and a  four-part history of the U.S. prison system titled Looking Outward. The warden at Alcatraz and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons refused to let Mr. Stround publish the books.

After six years in solitary confinement, Mr. Stroud was transferred to the prison hospital as his health began to fail. He’d spend the last eleven years at Alcatraz in the hospital wing, still isolated from fellow inmates.

In 1955, author Thomas Gaddis wrote about Mr. Stroud and titled his book The Birdman of Alcatraz. Seven years later the book was transformed into a film of the same name, starring Burt Lancaster. Mr. Lancaster would earn an Academy Award nomination for his role as Mr. Stroud. The “Birdman” himself was never allowed to see the movie.

In 1959, Mr. Stroud was transferred from Alcatraz to a prison hosptial in Springfield, Missouri. While there he sued the Bureau of Prisons for forbidding the publication of his books, but the courts upheld the ban.

Finally after years of illness, Mr. Stroud died on November 21, 1963 at the age of 73. He had spent 54 years of his life in prison, and all but twelve of that in solitary confinment.

In February 2014, more than 60 years after first writing his manuscripts in pencil by hand, the first part of Looking Outward was published as an e-book with the help of the local Missouri lawyer who took Mr. Stroud’s case in 1959.

Sources: Wikipedia, Alcatrazhistory.com, and USAToday.com

(Image of Robert Stroud’s transfer record from Leavenworth to Alcatraz, courtesy of wikimedia. Notice in the bottom left where it lists occupations: “Bird breeder and bird doctor over 20 years.”)

Other residents of Alcatraz featured on Obit of the Day:

Al Capone - Prisoner #85

Darwin Coon - Prisoner #1422