Ai Weiwei—Without a Trace

With Wind

With Wind

The extraordinary @Large Ai Weiwei exhibit is now part of the daily tour to Alcatraz by ferry (Pier 33). Ai Weiwei, 57 years old, whose art raises questions about freedom of expression and human rights, has served several prison sentences in China.  This major installation invites viewer participation.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

 

Several of the prison buildings (now in ruins reminiscent of burnt-out inner city neighborhoods or the aftermath of Hiroshima) exhibit a range of Ai Weiwei’s artwork with the most evocative being “With Wind” and “Trace”.

“With Wind” has an enormous dragon kite as its centerpiece, unfurled in sections of smaller kites, each representing a beautiful plant or bird as background for quotations from political activists, including Nelson Mandela, Edward Snowden, and Ai himself. Scattered around the sides of the room are other kites decorated with stylized and poetic renderings of birds and flowers, indicating countries which restrict their citizens’ human rights and civil liberties, scattering hope to the wind.

“Trace” is an even more direct depiction of political imprisonment, giving it a human face: 175 faces to be exact. The viewer peers down at a field of 175 colorful and intricate LEGO images laid out across the floor: portraits of men and women from around the world—“heroes of our time”– who have been sentenced or exiled because of their beliefs or affiliations. Most were still incarcerated like Ai Weiwei at the time “Trace” was made.

The sheer number of political prisoners, arranged by continent, is overwhelming but the intricacy of the construction is also. Each image was crafted by hand from LEGO pieces, some of which are the tiniest ones LEGO makes. (Some portions of the artwork were assembled in the artist’s studio, while others were fabricated to the artist’s specifications by more than 80 volunteers in San Francisco.) A binder for each geographical section summarizes the charges brought by the government against each detainee. A beautiful tribute to Martin Luther King is included.

Haile Woldetensae

Haile Woldetensae

The exhibit continues at Alcatraz until April 26, 2015 but is sold out through the end of January. Be forewarned: the map and signage for the exhibition collections is confusing so allow enough time for walking to this art space, an exploration of what constitutes liberty and justice. For Ai Weiwei, art is an act of conscience.

FWD—Fishing with Dynamite

Hamachi

Hamachi

I first learned about this restaurant in Manhattan Beach (Los Angeles) in a January 22, 2014 New York Times review. It is amazing that such a tiny restaurant in a beachy little neighborhood received coverage from the premier East Coast cognoscenti.

First and foremost, Fishing with Dynamite is a knockout—East Coast meets West Coast for superb service either at the tiny bar (where we loved sitting) or at a table. The place is lively and even the manager chatted with us, offering his views on this new restaurant’s mission and philosophy in a down-to-earth manner. I really expected it to be good but not phenomenal, a kind rather than an accurate review for a novelty venue.

Seabass

Seabass

 

The menu is divided into Old School and New School with all the expected offerings on the Old School side: New England clam chowder, Maryland blue crab cakes, steamed clams. But the New School—OMG!! Grilled octopus with cranberry beans, a date-tomato ragu, and preserved lemon/olive tapenade. Then hamachi with avocado, serrano, and apple pear ponzu. The grilled sword fish was served with yellow peaches, fennel, capers and mint. Yum, yum and did I mention the oyster sampler platter —and you can name the six oysters so we ordered the small extra sweet ones: kushi, pacific gold, and I forgot the name of the other petite one our waiter suggested. All extraordinary with two sauces: mignonette with a zest of citrus with either sriracha or tapatio as well as a fabulous non-classical ponzu sauce.

The chef, David Lefevre, worked with the famous Charlie Trotter of Chicago fame for ten years before running the fabulous Water Grill in downtown Los Angeles. Now the Water Grill has lost him to Fishing with Dynamite.  Served with a lighthearted flair—we didn’t try the “Mother shucker”, the wine is also served in two glass sizes: 3 oz and 6 oz and the selection is superb, especially for such a tiny bit of heaven. Dynamite indeed!

Make a reservation at Fishing with Dynamite,  1148 Manhattan Avenue, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266   tel.  (310) 893-6299

 

“Olive Kitteridge”—Scenes from a Marriage, or A Bitter Edge

Olive Kitteridge

The HBO mini-series based on Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Olive Kitteridge” delivers big time! With a stellar cast led by the astounding Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins, we see the two main characters Olive and Henry vacillate between love and despair, kindness and absence of human connection. Scenes from a marriage with a bitter edge.

The main character, Olive Kitteridge, is intentionally the most puzzling and difficult to empathize with. She is more an anti-hero than a protagonist you identify with and hope for. There are glimmers of her compassion as the story winds on in this four-hour drama, but the darkest moments are the most unforgettable in the first half of the narrative. Like “August: Osage County”, the mother is a child’s worst nightmare. Olive, like Violet Weston, has been damaged so deeply by the family she loved, that the only ones she can care for are strangers or acquaintances. Those closest to her suffer the most.

Her husband, Henry, is sympathetic at the beginning but a slender bridge between his kind, supportive side and his darker, minefield of neediness slowly reveals itself.

Themes of suicide, depression, cruelty, infidelity, desperation, aging and love run through “Olive Kittredge” like a never-ending storm, with bursts of lightning and thunder and an intermittent, quiet drizzle that gives the viewer a needed relief from the piercing agony in this family’s lives and those of other townsfolk in the small Maine town, refuting the belief that small communities care for each other.

This intergenerational saga is a portrayal of a miserably unhappy couple and their son, in which each is obsessed with his or her own happiness but has no clue how to achieve it. The emotional center of the narrative centers on how neither Olive nor Henry is aware of what impact they have on others, nor how they are not always right.

But as twenty-five years of marriage pass, a growing awareness, especially on the part of Olive, surfaces and she slides into a begrudging insight.  The last lines resonate with emotional power and are impossible to forget—A seventy-five year old Olive mutters: “The world baffles me, but I do not want to leave it yet.” Perhaps her unhealed wounds are starting to heal.

This is a powerful, very dark production rich in character and language, adapted from a mesmerizing literary source!