Farewell to 2012

It’s time for our traditional end-of-the-year image. It is always a challenge to decide what to include, but we thinks this captures a few of the significant elements. 2012 was a crazy and at times and a bit nerve-wracking, but it full of richness and opportunity. I except more of the same in 2013. It’s going to be a busy and challenging year ahead, but I hope to be able to continue to keep this site going and maintain the friendships I have made here.

Dona Nobis Pacem

It’s the annual Blog Blast for Peace, where bloggers from around the world create “peace globe” images and share them on a single day. You can follow this link to find out how to participate.

Please leave your comments and thoughts whether or not you are participating. And if you have a peace globe of your own, feel free to link below.

Wordless Wednesday: Golden Gate Bridge via Doyle Drive

Note: We are trying a “linky” system for the first time on WW. Please submit your Wordless Wednesday link and let us know if it works for you.

International Orange: Art for the Golden Gate Bridge at 75

Today we look at the ongoing International Orange exhibition here in San Francisco. As part of the celebrations for the 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, sixteen artists were invited to create new works in response to the bridge. The results ranged from very concrete interpretations to more conceptual, and focused a variety of aspects from the iconic color to the architecture to the surrounding environment. All of the works were brought together at Fort Point in the shadow of the bridge for the show.

The bridge itself is a work of art on display at Fort Point, with unique views of the architectural detail that one does not see in the standard postcard shots.

The first formal piece to catch my attention was the sound-and-video installation by renowned multimedia artist Bill Fontana. It was in a dark alcove off the main courtyard of the fort, and focused primarily on sound derived from sensors and microphones that Fontana placed at various points on the bridge and Fort Point along with a live video of the underside of an expansion joint of the bridge. The result was an immersive aural experience anchored by the percussive rhythm of traffic over the expansion joins, the bridge’s cables and the waves at the shore. These elements worked together into a polyrhythmic “composition”, while the video helped orient the listener to the context of the bridge. I found Fontana’s piece to be both technically impressive (e.g., microphones on the bridge) and a captivating listening experience.

Several of the artists made literal use of the international orange color. Artist Stephanie Syjuco‘s installation simulates the typical souvenir store with mass-produced objects in that color, arranged in displays on tables and shelves.

The objects appear as those one might expect in the souvenir shop of an art museum (or next to the Golden Gate Bridge, for that matter), but the uniform color and lack of labeling gives it a strange quality, reminding the viewer that this is not an ordinary shop. It leaves space for the viewer to question the role of shops and commoditization in art without participating in it. Nothing was for sale – though visitors were encouraged to take a free postcard, which showed a solid international orange color field.

Anandamayi Arnold created seven paper dresses in the style of the Fiesta Queens from the original 1937 opening of the bridge – while most of them had the traditional colors and patterns associated with the style, the most striking one was entirely colored in international orange.

I am pretty sure the life-size dresses were in fact wearable, as I saw Arnold wearing either the piece shown above or one like it at ArtMRKT a few weeks before the opening of the exhibition.

Another project that directly featured the international orange color covered the railings overlooking the inner courtyard with swags of orange bunting that were created by female veterans in collaboration with artist Allison Smith. Orange textiles were also a part of Pae White’s “digitally woven tapestries” based on photographs of the fog that is more often than not part of the environment in and around the bridge.

The environment was a major theme of several other projects as well, as artists turned their attention away from the bridge itself to the surrounding water, air and land. Photographer David Liittschwager created an installation that examined the life within one cubic foot sections of water below the bridge. The result is a series of detailed images of life large and small mounted on cubes.

The images themselves could have easily been at home in a science museum rather than an art exhibit, but it is the way the dark pedestals are arranged and their contrast with the brick hallway that makes it art.

Camille Utterback presented an ambitious piece that used digital displays and custom software to create dynamic visual models of the patterns of water flow in the San Francisco Bay. Like Fontana’s work, it was presented in a dark alcove where the displays shown brightly with undulating patterns, but small portals in the wall allowed the viewer to contrast the actual flow of water under the bridge with the historical model. Abelardo Morell explored light and shadow with his camera-obscura installation. A pinhole is used to expand light from outside the fort in a large but grainy image characteristic of this old form of photography.

Other projects were more conceptual, drawing inspiration and organization from history and social context surrounding the bridge and the surrounding area. Cornelia Parker’s sculpture Reveille featured two bugles, one flattened and no longer playable. The piece is a a comment on Fort Point’s history – it was never called into action. Rather than hearing the sound of the bugles, we hear the acoustics of the vault with the wind and echoes of other visitors. The light also plays off the shapes creating more flattened copies of the instruments.

“Artist, historian, and urban strategist” Jeannene Przyblyski produced a virtual radio station K-BRIDGE that presents numerous stories, ideas and sound experiences suggested by the bridge, some of which are factual and some of which are not. The station is broadcast acoustically from a live installation as well as over WiFi to mobile devices and streaming on the internet. You can read and listen to samples here.

The installation is an interesting blend of old an new, with vintage “On Air” sign and wooden details as well as modern electronics for digital storage and wireless networking.

There are more pieces in the show that are not covered by this article. Overall, I am glad I was able to experience this artistic part of the 75th anniversary celebration, and in particular getting to see the pieces within the immediate environment of the bridge itself. The exhibition continues through October, so there is still plenty of time to see it.

Fun with Highways: The Golden Gate Bridge at 75

Today we at CatSynth and countless others celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The tallest suspension bridge in the United States, the second longest, and painted in International Orange, it is instantly recognizable. In a sense, the Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco’s “Empire State Building”. Both are iconic architectural centerpieces that represent their respective cities, and both date back to the 1930s and feature the distinctive Art Deco elements of the era. Both are often present in the background during everyday life of the cities. And (at least for me), they are also places rarely visited except when hosting out-of-town visitors.

But the Golden Gate Bridge is an important practical part of the city. It is a busy transportation carrying US 101 and California Highway 1 north from San Francisco into Marin County and points beyond on the north coast. It is very unusual for a modern roadway in that the opposing lanes are separated only by short poles that are moved to adjust the number of lanes in each direction. It seems a bit quaint, in fact. On the city side, the highway split into a boulevard carrying CA 1 south and Doyle Drive (US 101) until this past month when the latter was demolished. From these points, travelers are dispersed onto the city streets of San Francisco. There is no easy highway or rail connection between my part of the city (near the Bay Bridge) and the Golden Gate Bridge, owing to the city’s hilly geography and quirky political history. As such, I find myself not near the bridge very often except when I need to be. But when I am nearby it is worth stopping to take notice.

This is what we most often see when we look at the bridge, the orange structure partially shrouded or occasionally completely enveloped by another of our famous landmarks, the San Francisco fog. But the interplay of the fog, the bridge structure, and the other natural and human elements of landscape can make for interesting compositions.

With the anniversary upon us, much attention is being paid to the history of the bridge, its engineering as well as the politics and economics surrounding its construction. For me, the most interesting part of the history is the work of Charles Ellis, a senior structural engineer and mathematician. In many ways (including his early academic credentials), he was more mathematician than engineer, and did much of the theoretical work on the design of the bridge with large amounts of detailed mathematics, along the way publishing highly cited works such as “Williot Equations for Statically Indeterminate Structures” in Transactions, American Society of Civil Engineers, 1935. Indeed, he is now recognized as a principal designer of the bridge, but at the time he was not given any credit after being fired by Joseph Strauss, chief engineer of the bridge project. He was only officially given credit in 2007 (as described in this San Francisco Chronicle article).

This film from the time chronicles the building of the bridge, but also exemplifies the mythology that Strauss created around himself.

Nonetheless, the bridge itself opened to huge fanfare, as seen in this Prelinger Archives film:

Another copy of this video can be found here.

The festivities for this year’s 75th anniversary began about a month ago with the demolition of Doyle Drive, the elevated highway connecting to the bridge.

[Photo by toyzrus8 on flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)]

The old highway had elements such as metallic beams in the International Orange color that connected it to the bridge, and it definitely looked to be of the same vintage. It is being replaced by the new Presidio Parkway that will more gracefully connect to the surrounding parkland but also contain the iconic orange color and architectural elements to connect it to the bridge.

Today’s festivities include a planned fireworks display at the bridge. Perhaps most notably there is an ongoing art exhibit at Fort Point called International Orange in which several prominent artists present works inspired by the bridge. I am hoping to see this exhibit soon (perhaps on a quieter day when I can observe the pieces in detail). I did see a preview recently at one of last weekend’s art fairs where Anandamayi Arnold wore one of her dresses for the exhibit, appropriately colored in International Orange. I am also inspired by the concept of this project and the mathematical work of Ellis described above to try my own hand at a creative piece in honor of this occasion.

Please join us in wishing the Golden Gate Bridge a happy 75th Anniversary!