Sunday, May 29, 2016

Exploratorium - Strandbeest Preiview

We were able to attend another fun and amazing members preview at the Exploratorium, San Francisco's well-loved, hands-on science museum – a show featuring Theo Jansen and his Strandbeests (beach animals). The show gives visitors an overview of all the work that goes into one of these amazing "animals": the evolution and the death of various types of beests, their musculoskeletal systems, their rudimentary cardio-vascular functions, and their still simple nervous system abilities (more advanced species can sense their environments as well as save information).

Outside, in the plaza, visitors can also push a beest, feel the systems at work (they are surprisingly heavy but easy to move).

Here, Jansen explains how the "gills" drive a cam and fill the bottles with pressurized air, and then there is a way for the Strandbeest to test the hardness off the sand, so it knows how close it is to the surf (and doesn't walk into the water).

And here is the Strandbeest in motion – if it senses that it is too close to the water's edge, it can change direction.

One imagines that if you could figure out the mechanical engineering to just make the legs, and you might be very happy with that. Over the last 25-plus years, Jansen has added ways for the beests to "live" autonomously on the beach; "breathe" air to metabolize; and "see" the shoreline and avoid waling into the sea.

Jansen explains that his dream is to have the beests live and die, evolve and grow on their own – that he can release them into the wild and have them survive. It was a true pleasure to have the chance to see the beests and meet the artist – fascinating and beautiful.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Berkeley Art Museum Members Preview

Saturday, January 30, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) re-opened for a members' preview. Their new building was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who also design the ICA in Boston and The Broad in LA.

The building design is a combination of old and new; it's the former UC Berkeley printing plant, with the addition of a new cinema/theater and a connecting spine of stainless steel. The printing plant cues of art deco were preserved, and the functional north-facing saw-tooth sky-lights were re-created to fill the gallery spaces with natural light. There is a bit of a fiction that you are in the old printing plant; it is a new building behind an existing facade.

You enter along Center Street, below the extended terminus of the spine, and are brought into a large collection space. In front of you a multi-story hall, below the spine, leads to the theater; to your left, the space spills down to a wooden seating area. The main gallery spaces are wide and open, allowing plenty of room for installations and media pieces.

There is a tall, triangular sliver of a lobby for the theater; it's unclear how BAMPFA will use the space. The theater itself seems an excellent space to watch movies. On the second level, along the balcony over-looking the main hall is the cafe. Awkwardly, the end of the spine over-hanging Center Street is not a feature space - currently housing some small plants.

The second level, and the view looking down the spine as well as into the galleries below, is filled with wonderful shapes and counter-pointed lighting effects.

Take the fire-red stairs to the lower level and arrive at the galleries for the permanent collection, as well as the study and research areas. These galleries feel a bit less generous than the ones upstairs; a separate long gallery with a butcher-block floor houses the buddha.

One of the stated goals for the new facility to connect with "wider urban and public contexts". There seems to be some suggestion of this with the large, outside video display at the Addison Street end of the spine. Otherwise, there does not seem to be much of a nod to public spaces - the old building had a couple of public plazas (though not necessarily inviting public spaces).

Looking forward to vistiing during regular hours and getting to know the building.