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Presidio Habitats: A Year Long Exhibition in the Landscape
Mark Jensen, Patience, 2010. Ten solitary chairs.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- One might ask, why animal habitats? The answer is quite simple: animal habitats have a direct connection to the rich diversity of wildlife in the park as well as to the significant efforts being made in habitat restoration within the Presidio. In this way, habitat design is the creative engine for development of work specifically for the place. By including as habitat candidates species that no longer live in the park, artists had even more opportunities to address the complex and ever-changing nature of the Presidio’s habitats and how they have evolved in relation to the park’s animal residents.

The twenty-five proposals received for Presidio Habitats reveal a consideration of habitat in its fullest sense, as both abode and locality. In range of approach and ideology, the proposals confirm the vitality of the Presidio and evoke the rich nexus of nature and cultural history that gives the Presidio its singular identity.

For some artists, the disappearance of a species that once lived in the park proved especially compelling. Taking the absence of the California Quail as a challenge, landscape architect Walter Hood proposed a thoroughly functional, yet sculpturally elegant spiral structure that could protect the quail from predators. For Nathan Lynch, the disappearance of the Black-tailed Jackrabbit was a chance to create a wry, conceptual set piece for a rematch race between the tortoise and the hare.

In Winged Defense, Mark Dion and Nitin Jayaswal draw upon the park’s military history to create a functional bat barracks with vernacular architectural elements. The intended resident is the Mexican Free-tailed Bat, whose insect-eating habits make it an ally and defender of humans. In Winged Wisdom, Philippe Becker Design offers three resonant aphorisms that are associated with the American Robin, yet hold meaning for humankind as well. In ten strategically placed yellow chairs, Jensen Architects invites the public to experience the Great Blue Heron by becoming part of the theater of the landscape.

The predominant undercurrent of intent that informs all the proposals and site-based installations is a profound awareness of how special this place is and a desire to share some aspect or discovery of it with others. For each artist, the habitat proposal was a starting point, the beginning of an investigation. Over the past ten months, the projects selected for sitebased commissions have gone through an extensive development and review program, a process that could be described as making the site-based installations of the place. In the most direct sense, this meant meeting the rigorous criteria for temporal placement within a national park. In a broader sense, it involved using repurposed, place-based materials wherever possible, siting individual works along trails where they can be accessed by the public, and developing and disseminating interpretive material to encourage visitors to observe, appreciate, and learn.

Presidio Habitats is an opportunity for the public to see new, site-based art about place and to experience once again, or for the first time, the diverse landscapes and stunning vistas of the Presidio.

Presidio of San Francisco, a National Historic Landmark District, is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the largest urban national park in the United States. It is home to a myriad of plants and animals, including remaining fragments of the diverse ecological communities that have been all but lost in the urban Bay Area. The Presidio is the birthplace of San Francisco, and its buildings and archaeological finds speak of generations of continuous human habitation, from the native Ohlone people, who are believed to have been on the site as far back as the thirteenth century, to the Spanish, who built El Presidio de San Francisco in 1776, to the U.S. Army, which assumed control in 1846 and remained until 1994, when the Presidio became a national park site. The Presidio is also unique among national parks because people live and work in the park, sustaining its centuries-old character as a place of human activity.

San Francisco | "Presidio Habitats" | Nathan Lynch | Mark Jensen |

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