Bathrooms, porcelain flowers and a sea of red

We came across details of an exhibition by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in Alcatraz which as you know is a former penitentiary on an island off San Francisco. Alcatraz is open to tourists who want to see the old prison so Ai’s exhibition is getting his message across to thousands.


Ai Weiwei


Weiwei’s message

What is his message? It’s all about freedom. Ai is still in a Chinese prison following his arrest in 2011 for constantly criticising the Chinese government and its regimes. He had to entrust the installation of this art project on Alcatraz to his collaborators as he is forbidden to leave Beijing.


If you are lucky enough to visit the exhibition you will hear recordings of speeches, poems and songs from people still imprisoned around the world or those who suffered the ultimate penalty of death for their cause. Hence Martin Luther King’s famous 1967 speech can be heard, a song by Tibetan Lolo imprisoned in China and a song from the Russian band Pussy Riot and the Plastic People who were famously imprisoned by the State for ‘hooliganism’. Many other minority voices are also played.


Porcelain flowers

In the old hospital wing, Ai has filled old sinks, bath tubs and toilets with beautiful white porcelain flowers. According to the review in The Guardian ‘They’re (also) a biting evocation of Mao’s “let a hundred flowers bloom” crackdown of the 1950s, in which surface offerings of free expression disguised brutal government retribution.’





More porcelain flowers

Ai’s stark white blossoms invoke a full-on reaction from those who believe in freedom of speech but there are other porcelain flowers that have been making bigger news over here.


The amazing display of porcelain red poppies at the Tower of London has also attracted thousands. All of the poppies are hand-made and are the brain child and design of Derbyshire ceramic artist Paul Cummins.



The poppies range from 6 inches to 1 metre tall (BBC)


‘Blood swept lands and seas of red’ has evoked a strong feeling of remembrance for all those British and Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives in World War 1. Very fitting as this year is the hundred year anniversary since the start of WW1.



One for every life lost

A poppy for every British or Commonwealth soldier who lost their lives in WW1 has been made and ‘planted’ around the Tower of London. Almost 900,000 poppies have been planted from July to November 11 on this site by 8,000 volunteers. Staged by Tom Piper a set designer, the sea of red around the Tower has been magnificent.


While there are no baths or sinks in sight, the flow of red around the Tower’s moat has moved many. Although it would be great if it stayed in situ, the artist says they are meant to be transient just like life.


So some of the poppies will tour the country and end up as permanent exhibitions in the Imperial War Museums in London and Manchester. Two sections will remain at the Tower until the end of November and others will be sold. The collected monies will be divided by six military charities including the locally based Help for Heroes. The sales are expected to raise in excess of £15 million.