San Franciscans are one of a kind. Many of us claim to be an artist, of sorts, and thriving in edgy art scenes -- ones infused with elements reflecting our diverse population. Everyone has their niche and personal preferences, and while public art may universally be considered low-brow on the arts spectrum, one artist has thrown those notions out the window and made the form takeoff in flight -- literally.
This week's "Tourism for Locals" presents the art of Brian Goggin, a San Francisco based artist who has created public art pieces that reflect our city's quirky and crazy character. It is difficult to limit this entry to just one piece from the local man that crafts his high-flying pieces to fuse with existing edifices and structures, so we'll highlight two installations: Defenestration and Language of the Birds.
Defenestration was Goggin's first public art piece that gained local and national attention for its novelty in concept and introduced us to his unique style of injecting animal-like movements to inanimate objects. Commissioned in 1997 as a site-specific piece from the National Endowment of the Arts, Andy Warhol Foundation, and private donations; this art piece has 42 different pieces of furniture bolted to the window ledges and walls of the long closed Hugo Hotel located at Sixth and Howard streets in the SoMa neighborhood.
The falling furniture in Defenestration (which literally means to throw something out the window) includes grandfather clocks, rotary phones, tables, and ottomans. Suspended from the crevices, they appear to be hanging on for dear life, as though some invisible force is pushing them to be thrown out into the street.
According to the artist, the area has historically endured economic challenges and is often attached with the stigma of being identified as a skid-row kind of place. Having the abandoned furniture injected with life like movements, in turn makes art and people around the piece feel alive:
Reflecting the harsh experience of many members of the community, the furniture is of the streets, cast-off and unappreciated. The simple, unpretentious beauty and humanity of these downtrodden objects is reawakened through the action of the piece. The act of "throwing out" becomes an uplifting gesture of release, inviting reflection on the spirit of the people we live with, the objects we encounter, and the places in which we live.
While the Goggin's fine art furniture piece might not be a stop for the double decker sight-seeing buses, his other prominent San Francisco commission is nested in one the most touristy areas of the City: North Beach.
Language of the Birds is located on the intersection of Broadway and Columbus at Grant , right next to City Lights Bookstore and in front of the mural paying tribute to jazz music. Unveiled November of 2008, the artwork may look like restaurant takeout boxes from a distance but are actually a sculpted flock of 23 translucent open books that look like birds in flight. They are suspended by thin, stainless steel cables attached to light poles and flutter above the little plaza that connects Financial District, Chinatown, and North Beach.
Words, taken from books by neighborhood authors or lines about the surrounding communities (in English, Chinese, Italian, and Spanish) have fallen from the pages of the birds in flight and are scattered and embedded in the plaza right underneath them. (We always prefer word droppings than pigeon fecal matter.)
At night fluctuating lanterns light up by internal solar powered LED lights inside the book birds. The solar panels are located on the roof of the nearby bookstore and this was the first public art piece in the country to be illuminated by solar power.
Words of advice:
Enjoy Defenestration during the day, because at night there is no illumination of the work, whereas Language of the Birds looks great during bright daylight, but after the sun sets, the books light up and react to the surrounding pulsating lights of the neighborhood. Think of this as the Bay Bridge light display but on a smaller scale.
Goggin received his undergraduate education at San Francisco State University and did graduate work at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. He has crafted works of art on both coast of the United States, Poland, France, and Great Britain.
Although we could assume Goggin has left his heart in San Francisco, we can safely say that his art has certainly left it's mark on our foggy city.