Field Work on Alcatraz


Broken Glass on Map

America Atlas map and broken glass

People's Blanket

stencil on felt, pillow and matress

Wandering Position on Alcatraz

ant, steel angle, wax‐crayon


Six Phrases from Sunlight


May 1995
My first visit to the infamous Alcatraz Island, the former federal prison.

I became interested in Alcatraz when I learned of the imprisonment of a Japanese American there as well as the Native American occupation in 1969 after the prison was closed. Tomoya Kawakita, a second-generation Japanese American, was indicted and sentenced to death on the charge of treason against the United States during World War ll. Kawakita was accused of and tried for this most serious crime against the country in 1947, soon after the war’s end, when anti- Japanese sentiment was still strong, especially in California. At the time, Japanese American communities on the West Coast seem to have remained silent concerning this incident.
In 1953, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

I thought of the famous passage from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech:
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

Ironically, Kawakita was granted a presidential pardon by President Kennedy in 1963, in one of his last official acts before his assassination.

April 30 to May 11, 1996
The lndustries Building, which I was given permission to enter for my project, is located on the west side of Alcatraz. Its vast space stretched in a northsouth direction like a corridor. As the sun traversed the sky from east to west, its light shifted in the building, indicating the passage of time. The ceiling’s skylight was grated with thick iron lattices, through which light was projected in a grid pattern. Fifteen boxes of light on the floor seemed to me to be waiting for somebody to fill in a word. The characters in light, however, would appear and then disappear every day. While there, I constantly heard seagulls crying and Alcatraz’s fog-bells echoing desolately, in this starkly bare building, ravaged by the ocean breeze.

Over the period of two weeks, I visited Alcatraz every day and conducted “field work”.The“field work”I am presenting here is an accumulation of “sketches”that I made of the environment and objects there. They do not necessarily have a direct message about Tomoya Kawakita’s case.
Nonetheless, what sustained my interest in the island and what motivated me to this project are Alcatraz’s histories and genius loci.

May 20, 1996
Yukinori Yanagi


  1. Tetsuro Shimojima’s Amerika kokka hangyakuzai(Treason Against the United States), published by Kodansha in 1993, is a study of Tomoya Kawakita’s trial based on extensive research. Referring to the “process by which the state power made a criminal out of a human being,”Shimojima contends that Kawakita was wrongly convicted.

    (Statement from "YUKINORI YANAGI Field Work on Alcatraz,"
    Cap Street Project)

Solo Exhibition ‘Field Work on Alcatraz’ (4.30-5.11, 1996 / Cap Street Project, San Francisco)