Commentary on an indigenous art collective’s take on San Francisco’s towers and errors.
On January 17, 2020, I attended a talk at the San Francisco Art Institute that spotlighted their latest commissioned artwork and featured one of its artists. More than just learning about the interesting and controversial piece, I came away with new perspectives on my own city — those stated by the artist.
The artwork itself is a sound piece, titled The Point of Final Collapse. It broadcasts daily at 5:01pm from the San Francisco Art Institute’s tower. SFAI commissioned the project that has been completed by an art collective named Postcommodity. It is an indigenous art collective made up of SFAI Art and Technology Chair Cristóbal Martínez, and Kade L. Twist.
On this day it was Cristóbal Martínez speaking for the duo, as his collaborator Kade L. Twist was unable to attend. Brian Droitcour, an editor at Art in America, led with questions.
Their sound piece at SFAI takes on a San Francisco specific topic, that is rather timely and hits on a touchy motif. The subject of the artwork is the Millennium Tower in downtown San Francisco, a ten-year-old luxury development. With the price tag of the tower’s construction and the premium of the condominium real estate within it, one could conclude all is fine — that all was exquisitely well-executed. That, however, is not the case. This monumental tower has been slowly sinking, with cracks in the walls that even a breathtaking penthouse suite can’t make up for. Major structural problems exist and yet the tower stands (well, sort of), amid a vulnerable environment of other buildings around it, people below it, people living within it. It stands as a sinking (or disappearing) monument. Ironically, how could such a tower not be made with anything but the best made materials and plans?
And yet, as it is said, “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men….”
Still, this is not about solely chastising the Millenium Tower as it also calls attention to other crises in the city. While some say the problem is solved and litigation has happened; the repercussions still exist. It is still under the watchful eye of those who walk below it, daily. And so the argument continues. It’s symbolic of the way some feel that the city is itself in a state of collapse.
The sound piece, The Point of Final Collapse uses audio therapy that it broadcasts to soothe the sense of the tower’s deterioration. Its use of sound is meant to also call out the mega self-help industry. Tons of tools now exist for purchase that capitalize on our need to recover from our stressful environments.
It was refreshing to hear the artist Cristóbal Martínez describe his and Kade L. Twist’s intent with the project. That while it is meant to disrupt by bringing to thought what is happening with the Tower, its audio aims to ease in order to open discussions about the city’s glaring issues.
That was not what I expected to hear from the artist. I expected to hear about disruption but not calm controversy. When you think of protest, there is usually a negative tool at play. However, Martínez only spoke of the necessity for everyone to stop and listen to each other or nothing will ever change. In other words, butting heads only leads to pain and never a handshake.
Perhaps it takes an outsider to keep the peace. Martínez is a new San Francisco resident, formally moving here when he began teaching at SFAI. Upon hearing of his experiences with trying to find housing and paying the bills in this city, you know he gets it. As do so many long-time residents who have had to relocate to other cities due to rising housing prices and shrinking wages. In fact, Martínez wasn’t able to move to the best part of town, not even close, not even on the wages of a department chair at a prestigious art school in this major U.S. city.
This city and the entire Bay Area has lost many artists due to its low affordability rates. And in kind (or unkind), we are also losing cultural institutions, such as classic movie theatres, most recently the Clay Theatre, after screening films for 110 years.
As long-time residents move out and new residents move in, the city’s culture will continue to change. The question is, what is this city destined to become? People say that change is bound to happen. But then why do we visit all of the well over 100-year-old high points in Europe, and in other parts of the much older world? Is it just U.S. cities that need to go through the washing machine every so often? — its people included?
Personally speaking, I am a San Francisco native. I inherited a house that I co-owned with my brother and sister. We sold that house and I became displaced — fortunately, my brother has a private apartment in his home and he offered me cheap rent. I wish I were still a homeowner, but even more, I’m thankful that I’m not homeless. Such is life today.
After hearing Martínez speak, I took a step back on my own opinions. Who more than indigenous people could protest and yell and scream?
It makes me sad when I see the changes happening in the city that I was born in. And yet it is taking this outsider to make me consider controlling my annoyances.
Perhaps it’s with the awareness that everyone knows full well that all of this is just a passage in time with us within it. We as individuals will be gone one day, but buildings and governmental and societal structures will continue to soar. We are mere specks on this earth.
Whereas I might have once said that it is better to yell than to go down without a fight, I am now more inclined to say, “Okay, let me hear what you have to say.” Two opposing angry fists can duke it out in a fight, but no one is listening to anyone’s fists.
Yet, it is also said, “You can’t beat the system.”
Or can you?