Last Sunday (April 3, 2011) I joined a small group for a guided tour of the Habitats Exhibition at the Presidio in San Francisco. This is an outdoor art exhibition with a theme of designed habitats for wildlifes that are currently here and those that once lived here. It is sponsored by FOR-SITE foundation and they invited an international group of artists and designers to submit proposals. Even with a million-dollar budget, only eleven out of the twenty five proposals were built and installed in May 2010. However, all of the proposals can be seen in this 1300-square-foot Exhibition Pavilion made out of three shipping containers.
According to our tour guide, Mr. Peter Good, who did almost all of the installations, this piece alone took three quarters of the total budget. It is a sleek and nice building but I secretly wish that they had skipped this fratricidal proposal and use the saved money to build some of the other fourteen animal habitats.
One of the banner projects is this Western Screech-Owl Habitat by Ai Weiwei, who is a famous artist from China. He designed several blue-and-white ceramic nests that imitate traditional garden stools. These were then fastened to a huge Monterey cypress tree and according to Peter, the crew had to climb up this gigantic tree and spend many hours getting these pieces up the tree. At one point they simply had enough and even threatened to quit because they were asked to do seemingly endless fine adjustments.
This is the start line of a work titled “Where is the Hare?” by Nathan Lynch. It is an imaginary race with two former Presidio resident animals of Black-tailed Jackrabbit and Western Pond Turtle.
This work is called “Winged Wisdom” by Philippe Becker Design. There are three phrases that reflect the wisdoms of American Robins: “Nest from the inside out”, “Adapt to change”, and “Resolve conflict with song”. The letters are made of metal mesh and are filled with straw-Robin’s favorite nesting material. This work reminds me of the poetry and calligraphy inscriptions in traditional Chinese gardens. It is a powerful design tool that is getting popular in modern gardens.
This Gray Fox habitat is by CEBRA from Denmark. Again I am seeing the Chinese character for mountain “山”. All the wood are from local Monterey Cypress cut down within the park since they are near the end of their life cycle.
Birds nests make up for the majority of the installed proposals. Maybe this is not a surprise since birds are some of the most visible and persistant wildlifes in an urban environment. Insects are probably more widespread, but people tend to think of them more as annoyances. In any case, this owl dome by Taalman Koch Architecture is one of my favorite works with its clean and elegant form. Now it would be perfect if one owl can make it home, which would present a small dilemma for the park authorities who originally scheduled to remove all these art works by the end of this summer (2011).
After a few hours of brisk walking, we came to the finish line of “Where is the Hare” race, and we got a great ocean view beyond. All in all, it was a great trip studying these unique and beautiful works while exploring this hidden corner of Presidio.