From May 5 to October 14, 2001, at five outdoor sites around the Bay Area, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present Revelatory Landscapes. The exhibition of site-specific projects—the first SFMOMA presentation to be installed outside the Museum’s galleries—draws attention to typically unseen landscape zones on the edge of the urban scene throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Each commissioned project merges a concern for the environment with the realization that the formed land is an art that reveals aspects of our social and cultural histories. The exhibition focuses on revelations about the landscape, the culture and our relationship to both that can be gleaned from an investigation of these sites. Together they highlight a burgeoning form of art and design that has emerged over the last three decades, evolving out of the disciplines of landscape design and environmental installation. Organized by Aaron Betsky, SFMOMA curator of architecture, design and digital projects, and guest curator Leah Levy, the exhibition features new installation projects by ADOBE LA; Kathryn Gustafson, Jaimi Baer and Conger Moss Guillard, Landscape Architecture; Hargreaves Associates; Hood Design; and Tom Leader Studio.
Each project is “revelatory” in the way that it exposes some aspect of its site that has been buried or hidden by various influences: the passage of time, the forces of nature, cultural biases or the peculiar invisibility that cloaks a site that is unused, generic or merely irrelevant to the average passerby. The projects are also meant to be revelatory in the way they make us think critically about the conventional practices of landscape architects, architects and urban planners. As art forms, these installations occupy a position between traditional landscape architecture and contemporary land art. Notes Betsky, “These five site-specific installations reveal the history and nature of the Bay Area. Instead of planting and shaping the land, these landscape architects and artists dig into and mark the land to make us see the way in which we have shaped and continue to remake the real world we inhabit.”
Red Is Out, Mission Bay, San Francisco
ADOBE LA explores the metaphorical and literal connections between place, immigration, dislocation and water. Red Is Out is a retranslation of the pre-Columbian floating gardens, the chinampas, within the context of urban San Francisco. The chinampas were a network of canals and land that were built up from lake bottoms, forming large grids where crops could be grown; people could travel between them by boat and fish in the canals. They were an example of how ancient communities used local resources in life-sustaining and imaginative ways.
The installation, directly adjacent to Mission Creek and one block from Pacific Bell Park and the bay, features life-size representations of people—inspired by the figures depicted on the traffic sign just north of the United States/Mexico border on Interstate 5—running in the direction of the water, away from the city. Symbolizing the strong presence of immigrants in San Francisco, the figures represent the reverse flow of immigration in the city—a metaphor for shifting cultural and economic priorities. Red, the predominant color of ADOBE LA’s project, has strong associations to the body, luck and politics. In Red Is Out, the color also refers to the old slaughterhouses that once dumped waste into Mission Bay.
Kathryn Gustafson, Jaimi Baer and Conger Moss Guillard, Landscape Architecture
Wind, Sound and Movement, Candlestick Point Hill, San Francisco
Wind can be experienced sensorially but is visible only when it causes an object to move. Gustafson, Baer and CMG’s project reveals the shape of wind as it moves across the contour of the landscape. Visible from Highway 101 just north of the San Francisco Airport, the hill at Candlestick Point is a remnant of the natural landscape. Interspersed with natural contours and vegetation, terraces have been carved into the hill, making the mountain an oasis in a very urban area, the last vestige of nature before the city center.
Wind, Sound and Movement will be composed of several hundred Mylar spinners, wind chimes and “sound chairs.” Each spinner is 24 inches tall, mounted on slender, 6-foot tall rods and placed in a pattern corresponding to the growth of the pampas grass on the hill. The wind has scattered the seeds of the pampas grass across the landscape according to the way it moves across the site, and the spinners will reveal the varying intensities of the wind’s movement. Wind chimes will be interspersed throughout the pampas grass so the viewer can experience Wind, Sound and Movement both aurally and visually.
Sound chairs constructed from corrugated pipe will shield the sounds of the freeway and cup the music of the wind chimes. The movement of the spinners will create a dance in which any variation in intensity or directional gusts of wind varies the performance. This site exemplifies the goals of Revelatory Landscapes in that it reveals aspects of our cultural and physical landscape and educates the public about the significance of these elements of our local environment.
Hargreaves Associates with Julian Lang
Markings, intersection of Interstate 280 and Route 87, San Jose
The area where I-280 and Route 87 cross in San Jose is a complex site demonstrating the collision of natural, cultural and infrastructural systems. Once inhabited by the Chocheño tribal group of the Costanoan Indians, who were integrally tied to the Guadalupe River, this area is populated today by people pioneering the high-tech industry. The contrast and juxtaposition of the river’s ancient cyclical system and the modern, rapid system of the freeway creates a revelatory landscape.
Under the freeway overpass, Hargreaves Associates will paint the pylons an aluminum silver color with Costanoan words on one side and their English translations on the other. The pylon markings have been developed in collaboration with Julian Lang, an artist and scholar of Native American linguistics and mythology. The words and symbols evoke the life of the Native American people who once lived along the riverbank. They address their close relationship to the river as a spiritual presence and source of food and water.
Markings uses the physics of seeing to suggest a new understanding of place. It contrasts ideas of new and ancient technologies, future and past, and it requires that one cross the different conditions of the freeway and the river to properly experience the site.
Markings also consists of a large berm that mirrors the freeway ramps above and refers to the language and symbols on the pylons.
Hood Design with Doug Hollis and Olly Wilson
Landscape in Blue—Entropy in the Landscape, 7th and Peralta Streets, Oakland
Landscape in Blue—Entropy in the Landscape will reference the physical character of 7th Street prior to the construction of the U.S. Post Office and the West Oakland BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station.
On the corner of Peralta and 7th Streets, in a neighborhood once known for its vibrant jazz and blues scene, Hood Design will position a series of benches marked with historical data describing the many changes experienced by this neighborhood since its inception—especially those changes that occurred in the latter half of the 20th century due to postwar demographic and economic shifts. The images and texts will focus on the advent of the BART system as emblematic of the large-scale engineering projects that have played a critical role in the urban landscape. Other information will refer to the post office on 7th Street and to the jazz culture that once thrived there.
Landscape in Blue—Entropy in the Landscape will also utilize the spaces between the BART columns on 7th Street between Peralta and Wood Streets. Twelve BART columns along the central median will serve as a structural and visual device for exploring the music that is crucial to the neighborhood’s history. Old and newly improvised musical riffs will be transmitted along the street corridor allowing the music to create a spatial field. The experience of hearing the music, watching BART trains pass overhead and seeing the reflections of the dilapidated building facades will meld past and present to create a rich visual and aural experience.
Tom Leader Studio with Anurahda Mathur and Dilip da Cunha
Coastlines, intersection of Interstate 80 and University Avenue, Berkeley
In Coastlines Leader proposes that California is structured by alignments ranging from major geologic faults to rail lines, highways and street grids, and that the number and complexity of these alignments increase due to the expansion of human activity. New alignments continue to be deflected by the underlying geologic system to a general north-south direction, resulting in a broadly corrugated topography. Running perpendicular to the north-south alignments, many elements flow east-west across the corrugations and throw them into relief. As wind, fog, major rivers and migrations are influenced by such forces as the jet stream, the Earth’s rotation, barometric pressure gradients and global demographics, the interaction and collision between north-south and east-west flows heighten one’s awareness of both systems.
The Berkeley shoreline at the intersection of I-80 and University Avenue makes an interesting and demonstrative “shear zone.” It displays the interaction of obvious, linear north-south systems—the Hayward Fault, BART, I-80, Amtrak rails and San Pablo Avenue—with east-west systems—wind, fog, tides, city and state jurisdictions and marginal communities that lack clearly defined forms and boundaries. Leader will install a series of black screens placed nine inches apart, that will trace, with breaks, a one-mile area. The space between the two layers will be filled with compost and seeds, clam shells, grass bundles, tarps, hay, placards, shredded documents and the like, which will shift in response to the effects of east-west phenomena.
Revelatory Landscapes will be accompanied by an 120-page exhibition catalogue featuring essays by Aaron Betsky, Leah Levy and Dean MacCannell and photographs by San Francisco artist Richard Barnes, as well as a special exhibition Web site designed by PostTool Design, a San Francisco-based design firm. For a map with directions to the Revelatory Landscapes sites, visitors may visit the Museum Atrium or www.sfmoma.org/landscape.
There will be a half-day symposium and boat tour of the San Francisco Bay highlighting the Revelatory Landscapes sites in September 2001. For more information call the SFMOMA Office of Public Programs at 415/947-1292.
Revelatory Landscapes is made possible by grants from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Creative Work Fund, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the LEF Foundation.
* * *
SFMOMA encourages all visitors to wander and enjoy the five sites during daylight hours. We recommend that you wear appropriate footwear and clothes, as some of the sites gain their beauty both from their less-than-pristine nature and from the sometimes remote vistas they afford. The Museum also urges visitors to use common sense when visiting these public spaces, as they are not supervised and in some cases are away from highly trafficked areas.