Notes on Potrero Hill Branch Library artwork , "here and past here"

The forms, structures, and materials used in the installation refer obliquely or directly to aspects of the natural & cultural history of the Potrero Hill area. The character of the community throughout much of the last century seems to have evolved out of the blue collar work force and labor unions that were prevalent here as a result of industrialization. But that is recent history, and I wanted to evoke something about the environment and people who may have been here before all of that. The stunning views of surrounding geography at the site are a reminder of the impact of environment on the inhabitants, and vice-versa.

The focal point of the installation is a form suggested by the California Buckeye (aesculus californica) seed pod. The buckeye was one of the dominant trees in the area and provided food and other resources to the Native Ohlone living in the area. The pod is constructed of a willow grid, partially thatched with tule (scirpus californicus). This is a direct reference to Ohlone house construction. I was also very keen on conveying something about the layered nature of the place and it’s history, hence the only partially thatched contour of the pod, revealing its structure & interior.

The wire net-like piece hanging alongside the pod is another layer peeling off the pod. It is an abstracted version of a woven, utilitarian object such as a winnowing basket, made with a style of weaving that was also practiced by native people in the area. It is meant to look like charred bronze, however, an allusion to the industrialization and great fires that Potrero Hill endured in the last century.

The tule that forms the thatching on the pod turns into a handmade rope, another direct version of a utilitarian object routinely made by the Ohlone. It gradually increases in size and is transformed into a bulky sisal rope that threads through a steel torus at the ceiling. The rope represents an important factory located at the base of Potrero Hill in the early 20th Century, Tubbs Cordage Co. It is also meant to allude to the maritime industries which were so dominant on the waterfront. The scale of the rope is important – I was intent on including some element that expressed the large scale of the shipbuilding industries, which I found awesome. I hoped that the thick rope could get that across in a way that would not be overbearing in the context of the small library space.

I found the history of Potrero Hill fascinating. I was especially struck by the fact that the labor force who made this their home seemed to be consistently empowered and unified in their struggles with bosses & big businesses. I wondered why this was so, in view of the fact that the scale of the businesses at the waterfront seemed so huge. It occurred to me that the physicality of living on the Hill and looking down on the goings on must have given the residents a unique perspective – one that must have contributed to a sense of power.

For me, the steel torus represents the wheel & industry. It is partially rusted, indicating the inevitability of decay and the passage of time. It is formed by spiraling lines that have no beginning and no end.

The stem coming out of the top of the pod form is basically an aesthetic element tying everything together and, again, suggesting inexorable movement through time. The end of the stem is shaped like a megaphone, a nostalgic and ambiguous reference to the voice of the people.

GinaTelcocci September 2009