REAL School Marin

Relevant Experience and the Art of Learning

A unique, private, middle school located in central Marin County, California. 

We offer a personalized, intensive and integrated education for exceptional students as they navigate the crucial transition from childhood to adolescence.


Student reviews of RSM's visit to "@Large:Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz"

Leo R., Grade 8


@Large @Alcatraz


            “@Large Ai WeiWei on Alcatraz” was created by Ai WeiWei and his studio in Beijing.  Each piece was sent to the U.S. where it was reconstructed by more than 80 art student volunteers.

Ai WeiWei, a Chinese artist and dissident born in Beijing, has displayed his work all over the world.  He also collaborated with architects to create the Olympic Stadium in 2008.  In 2011 he was held in a Chinese prison for 81 days for criticizing the Chinese government.  Now he has had his passport taken away and isn't able to leave the country.  So he wasn't able to see his exhibit on Alcatraz.


            There are four major installations in the exhibit. In the first room of the exhibit a massive dragon hangs from the ceiling and winds throughout the room.  The dragon has a traditional Chinese look with the head greeting you the minute you step into the room. The dragon is made of kites and gently sways in the room. As you walk along the dragon, if you look closely you may notice quotes from people like Nelson Mandela and Edward Snowden.  There are also powerful words like, “damaging,” “acting,” and “plotting” hidden among the many panels that make up the colorful dragon.


            The next room is much longer than the first and holds the main part of the exhibit, “Trace.”  There are 176 portraits made out of Lego's depicting those dissidents that Ai WeiWei calls, “heroes of our time.”  The portraits sit on the floor and take up much of the space.  Divided into six large sections, each one is a patchwork of colorful pixelated faces.  Off to the side of the room there are white pillars with binders on top that give the background stories of each of the people in the portraits.  None of the artwork is roped off.  If you chose to, you could walk across all of the portraits, but that would be rude and disrespectful. You might even start to pick away at the bricks.  This is because Ai WeiWei originally wanted people to walk on the portraits.  He probably wanted this so people could get up close and explore his art freely.

            A third large installation, “Refraction,” is viewed from above in a hallway where guards used to look over the prisoners while they did their work.  You peer through many small windows upon what looks to be some sort of metal bird's wing or insect.  Made out of metal I-beams,the impressive sculpture is longer than a school bus.  It seems to depict freedom being taken away since the bird-like structure is trapped inside a basement and cannot get out.


            “Yours Truly,” an installation in the dining hall, has beautiful wooden tables and benches where visitors can write post cards to many of the dissidents in the portraits.  This interactive part of the exhibit is a moving touch and hopefully many visitors will take this opportunity to reach out and send support to the “heroes of our time.”





Sam S., Grade 7

October 14, 2014

Bird Trapped in the Basement

On Friday, October 10, REAL School Marin, a small Larkspur school, went to Alcatraz Island, a famous closed United States Penitentiary. The island currently houses a new Ai Weiwei art exhibition.

“@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz” is a new and provocative exhibition, focusing on prisoners of conscience, both well known and obscure. Weiwei, a prisoner of conscience himself, was not able to build the exhibition because he is not able to leave China. He has collaborated with many people to help construct and install the exhibits on Alcatraz. Weiwei was arrested in 2011 at Beijing airport, where his passport was promptly revoked and he has been trapped in the country ever since. His didactic art exhibitions contain underlying messages about cruel and unjust governments.

The exhibition on Alcatraz has several major installations in the New Industries Building, “With Wind”, “Trace”, and “Refraction”.

“With Wind” is a dragon made of vibrantly colored kites that are tethered together, and stretches the length of the room. The airy piece is suspended from the ceiling: visitors can walk under, read the words and be moved by these simple phrases. Each kite has either a word or a quote that symbolizes what prisoners of conscience fight for. Words like collude and quotes like “…privacy is a function of liberty” are printed on the kites.

“Trace” is a piece with LEGO brick portraits of many of prisoners of conscience. The exhibit features well-known people like Edward Snowden and John Kiriakou, and introduces obscure prisoners of conscience to exhibition visitors. The portraits kindle powerful emotions, and offer a stark contrast of what foreign governments condemn people for compared to our society that has intellectual freedom.

“Refractions”, also in the New Industries Building, is a wireframe bird, with Tibetan cooking solar panels. This piece uses the metaphor of a trapped bird to evoke the tensions between people who want intellectual freedom and draconian, communist governments.

Weiwei has chosen a captivating setting for these installations: inside a cold, dank, musty prison building that has paint peeling off the walls. Shattered glass litters the cement floor and cracked toilets line the walls. The slight feeling of oppression that the setting invokes contributes to the art and intensifies the effect.  Along the New Industries Building is a hall that was once used by guards to observe prisoners, known as the gun gallery, and Weiwei has even used that for visitors to gain a new perspective on the art pieces.

These provocative and controversial exhibits trigger powerful emotions of rage as well as sorrow for Weiwei and the prisoners featured in the pieces. The entire exhibition has many underlying messages, and carries a profound message for barbaric governments, especially the Chinese. The setting of a prison amplifies the effect of the art, and offers a new perspective on edifying modern art.