Ai Weiwei’s new installation entitled Refraction resembles a giant bird wing-symbol of freedom, but instead of feathers, the artwork is made from repurposed Tibetan solar cookers and kettles and is trapped inside one of America's most notorious prisons-Alcatraz. Visitors can only look at it through cracked windows of the famous walkway that was once used by guards to keep watch over prisoners.
The installation is meant to represent freedom, but is immobilized like a trapped animal inside one of the lower gun galleries of the penitentiary’s New Industries Building, and can only be seen from above. Visitors are placed in a position of authority but are also denied full access to the installation. This ambiguity questions the line between positions of power and submission and reflects different types of confinement, from physical to political and creative incarceration.
Weighing more than five tons, the sculpture is earthbound and its symbolic meaning inhibited by the narrowness of the space. Its wings, made from reflective solar cookers used in Tibet, reference the region’s struggles under Chinese rule. Its title, Refraction, might be interpreted as a word play, merging together the material quality of its elements and concepts of freedom, power and restriction.
Photos by Mike Chino and the For-Site Foundation