Shotgun Review

Presidio Habitats

By Shotgun Reviews January 10, 2011

Presidio Habitats, an exhibition currently on display in San Francisco’s Presidio, places works by eleven artists, architects, and teams of designers within the historically rich site. All of the inclusions are animal habitats designed particularly for the Presidio; these serve to interject a non-human history into the landscape and remind visitors of the animals that have coexisted alongside the park’s more visible human history.

The site of Presidio Habitats is an uncanny landscape: the park itself seems charmingly out of sync with the city around it, as if it were frozen in the 1940s; but the works in Presidio Habitats blend easily into their natural and man-made surroundings. Clustered near the exhibition pavilion is Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Western Screech-Owl Habitats (2010). Nests of blue and white Chinese pots cling to the limbs of a single tall tree inside a ring of whitewashed military buildings. Just as the buildings themselves seem oddly unpopulated, the vessels of Weiwei’s piece are empty; the owls that they are intended for have not been spotted in the park in a decade.

Nearby, yellow chairs, designed and placed by Jensen Architects, linger along the edges of the field at Fort Winfield Scott. Meant to be observation stations from which one can consider the slope of the grass and the animal world 

Jensen Architects. Patience, installation view, San Francisco Presidio, 2010. Courtesy of the FOR-SITE Foundation, San Francisco. Photo: Monique Deschaines.

underneath, the chairs also allow one to sit and imagine apparitions of the infantrymen on horseback who once lined the field, as they are described as doing by a historic plaque nearby. 

Overall, the status of these objects seems confused: are they art objects or are they functional? The placement, functionality, and aesthetics of these works are provocative, if easy to overlook. Presidio Habitats offers an excuse for visitors to explore the grounds and the vistas of the Presidio, while serving as a subtle reminder of the many pasts, some more visible than others, that make up our present.



Presidio Habitats is on view in the Presidio, in San Francisco, through May 15, 2011.



Liz Glass is a master's candidate in the Curatorial Practice program at California College of the Arts, in San Francisco, and co-director of PLAySPACE Gallery there.

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