A number of cultural events celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge this month. Among them, International Orange features site-specific contemporary art installations at Fort Point, a civil-war era structure built in 1861 to protect San Francisco from potential Confederate war ships. None came, but the building found other uses and later served as temporary housing for soldiers during World War II. It was deemed a National Historic Site in 1970 and is now part of the National Park Service. Tucked away beneath the southern base of the Golden Gate Bridge, which was built over it by design, Fort Point offers an immersive sense of history and incomparable views. The artists featured in International Orange delve into these extraordinary circumstances to reveal anew our sense of the world's most iconic bridge.
Doug Hall, Chrysopylae, 2012; Photo: Jan Stürmann
The exhibition features fifteen projects commissioned by FOR-SITE Foundation and includes work by artists Doug Hall, Cornelia Parker, Bill Fontana, Allison Smith, and Pae White, among several others. The works are integrated into various spaces within the antiquated fort, including former soldier's quarters, and are often juxtaposed with exhibits of historical objects. In some cases, such as with Pae White's muhf-uhl (2012), the juxtaposition of art and artifact is stunning. Continuing her recent explorations into digitally-woven tapestry, White worked with Belgian loom experts to embody the ethereal fog that wafts in off the Pacific and engulfs the bridge almost daily; the result is an enormous wall hanging whose colors seem to vaporize, ranging from the colorless silver of fog to the signature brick-red-orange of the bridge. Its placement, off to the side in a series of rooms behind a decaying archway, affords the viewer a rare breath-taking jolt of pleasure at first sight.
Pae White, muhf-uhl, 2012; Photo: Jan Stürmann
Some works strive to create new vantage points from which to consider our sense of the familiar. Sound artist Bill Fontana, whose work often draws on ambient noise, began by looking for unfamiliar vistas in the bridge's architecture -- a challenge for a structure that has been presented in myriad images from every conceivable angle. His installation, Acoustical Visions of the Golden Gate Bridge (2012), employs live audio and video footage in a cavernous space set away from the Fort's sun-lit courtyard. Video is captured from cameras installed in the seismic expansion joints beneath the bridge. Shadows and a familiar clank-clank indicate the passage of cars overhead, while a foghorn bellows in real time and the sea thrashes below, each amplified by microphones. Through the process of listening and looking, other senses are engaged and even the sea air is somehow intensified. Fontana's work creates a fleeting, concentrated sense of place that lingers between the past and present tense in memory, just as the mere recollection of salty air tingles the tongue.