Sequent Occupancy: A brief history of the SFMOMA site for the past 900 years (Part 2)

I don’t drink coffee, so let’s have a beer … My posts are always collaborations and are presented in two parts. Part 1 is a summary of a shared experience with my collaborator(s). Part 2 is a response, often in the form of a project created specifically for this blog.

After meeting my collaborator, Joshua Singer, at The Trappist a few weeks ago, we created a post about the primary topic of our beer-induced evening: sequent occupancy, which is the study of the history and influence of human occupancy of a specific region over intervals of historic time. For the past few weeks we’ve been sharing information about the history of the current SFMOMA site.

Below is our very selective and slippery and most definitely epic history of the current SFMOMA site for the past 900 years, based on population shifts as they influenced development of the site. The images and texts are compiled from a variety of sources ranging from the Folsom Street Fair website to Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City.

% of population, 1110

The rectangles and dates show the calculated/estimated populations for each of the categories (the world, California, SF, SFMOMA attendance, Yelamu …), and represented percentages of population shifts with the tints. The black rectangles represent 100%, or the highest population count on record in each category. The lighter the rectangle, the lower the percentage of population in that category. The rectangles don’t correspond to each other in a horizontal manner, but rather in a vertical relationship to all the other dots in that category. Example – The Yelamu had the highest population before the Spanish came, and then the population fades. SFMOMA has the highest attendance rate today, so the rectangles start out gray and get darker until the last graphic when it is black. At the bottom of our post there is a graphic of the entire timeline so you can easily track the population shifts in one glance.

% of population 1185

% of population 1260

pre-habiatation, referent site

[Referent site for possible precolonial geography of current SFMOMA at 151 3rd St., Google Earth, “38° 5’20.72″N, 122°57’34.30″W]

% of population 1335

The indigenous inhabitants of San Francisco used more than 150 different plant species in addition to dozens of animal species to provide for their needs. (Bocek 1984) Thoughtful management by the Yelamu* (* The descendants of the indigenous people of the Bay Area call themselves Ohlone, and their preference should be paramount. Following the careful scholarship of Randall Milliken, I use Yelamu here to refer to the approximately 160 people who inhabited several villages in the area now known as San Francisco. [Milliken 1995] They shared many close linguistic and cultural affinities with other indigenous peoples around San Francisco Bay, the Santa Cruz peninsula, and Monterey Bay. I use the term Ohlone when referring to this larger cultural and linguistic group. They helped foster the abundant and diverse native plant communities on which they depended. Willows, for example, needed pruning to encourage the straight young poles preferred by basketweavers. [Cultural Contact at the Presidio, by Pete Holloran]

% of population 1410


[Yelamu Hunters]

% of population 1485

The Yelamu were a tribe of Native Americans of Northern California in the Ohlone (Costanoan) language group. The Yelamu lived on the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula in the region comprising the City and County of San Francisco before the arrival of Spanish missionaries in 1769.

% of population 1560

Ohlone village

[Ohlone Village]

% of population 1635

% of population 1710

On the fifteenth of December 1774, Viceroy Bucareli sent from Mexico City a very important letter to Father Junipero Serra at Monterey. “In consideration,” he wrote, “that the port of San Francisco, when occupied, might serve as a base of subsequent projects, I have resolved that the founding of a fort shall take place by assigning twenty-eight men under a lieutenant and a sergeant. As soon as they are in possession of the territory, they will be sure proof of the king’s dominion. For this purpose Captain Juan Bautista de Anza will take a second expedition overland to Monterey from Sonora [Mexico], where he must recruit the said troops. He will see that they take their wives and children along so that they may become attached to their domicile. He will also bring along sufficient supplies of grain and flour, besides cattle. … When the territory has been examined, and the presidio is established, it will be necessary to erect the proposed missions in its immediate vicinity.” This was the first move in the grand project of founding San Francisco. (“The Founding of San Francisco,” The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco)

the Padron

[The Padron – mounted horseman]

The Jesuit missions established in Lower California, at Loreto and other places, were followed by Franciscan missions in Alta California, with presidios for the soldiers; adjacent pueblos, or towns; and the granting of large tracts of land to settlers. By 1782 there were nine flourishing missions in Alta California — San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Carlos, San Antonio, San Luis Obispo, San Buenaventura, San Gabriel, San Juan, and San Diego. Governor Fajés added Santa Barbara and Purissima, and by 1790 there were more than 7,000 Indian converts in the various missions. By 1800 about forty Franciscan fathers were at work in Alta California, six of whom had been among the pioneers of twenty and twenty-five years before, and they had established seven new missions — San José, San Miguel, Soledad, San Fernando, Santa Cruz, San Juan Bautista, and San Luis Rey. (“Ranch and Mission Days in Alta California,” by Guadalupe Vallejo, The Century Magazine, December 1890)

“On June 27 we reached the vicinity of the port and pitched camp, which was composed of 15 tents, on the bank of a large lagoon which empties its waters into the arm of the sea or the port that extends inland 15 leagues to the southeast. The object was to wait for the ship to mark out the site for the presidio near a favorable anchorage. No sooner had the expedition gone into camp than many pagan Indians appeared in a friendly manner and with expressions of joy at our coming. Their satisfaction increased when they experienced the kindness with which we treated them and when they received the little trinkets we would give them in order to attract them, such as beads and estables. They would repeat their visits and bring little things in keeping with their poverty, such as shellfish and wild seeds.” (Francisco Palou from “Deep California: Images and Ironies of Cross and Sword on El Camino Real,” by Craig Chalquist)

% of population 1785


Losing Our Voice

On January 18th, the University of San Francisco, in a complex and underhanded backroom deal involving the University of Southern California and Entercom Communications, sold the 33-year-old San Francisco independent radio station KUSF, without any notice to its staff and volunteers or the community it serves. On that day, armed USF security entered the station, cut off the DJ mid-broadcast, escorted him and the rest of the staff and volunteers who were present out of the building (without even allowing them time to gather their belongings), and changed the locks.

The deal allows USC and Entercom, the fifth largest broadcasting corporation in the U.S., to transfer over KDFC, an NPR classical music station once located at 102.1 on the FM dial, to 90.3, KUSF’s former spot. USF would then transition its broadcast of KUSF to a student-run online-only format. Another Entercom station, KUZX (a classic rock station) will take over KDFC’s former location on the left side of the dial.

For those who may not be aware, KUSF, in its long and rich history, has provided a wide variety of independent programming, not just serving the Bay Area underground music scenes, but also cultural programming in 13 languages for a vast array of  local ethnic communities. It also served “as a free communication nexus,” as Ted Dively explains here, “for a wide variety of small businesses, civic groups, arts organizations and venues for independent film, authors, educators and musicians from the Bay Area and beyond.” Its removal from the airwaves without notice is a grievous insult to the cultural identity of the city, as well as a devastating loss of a corporate-free voice on the local airwaves.

Laurie Anderson at KUSF 5-1982; photo: Bobby Castro. Used with permission.


FYI: The Revolution Has Just Been Tweeted

Cell phones record Mohamed El Baradei in al-Tahrir Square, Jan. 30th

Twitter began as a revolutionary social networking tool for the over-caffeinated, but now it can genuinely claim to have started a real revolution. Over the weekend numerous accounts have emerged detailing how the text-based microblogging service allowed Egyptian protesters to connect with one another and organize. Their goal was ambitious by any standard: to challenge a 30-year-old dictatorship by orchestrating massive nonviolent demonstrations. It also must have been quite a shock to Americans who are constantly bombarded with images of Muslims as suicide-bombing, bloodthirsty terrorists. Yet there they were — hundreds of thousands of them — risking their lives and the lives of their families in nonviolent protest against an anti-democratic regime. They were tired of martial law, of having their poets arrested, of having journalists routinely jailed and beaten, of enduring crushing poverty, and ultimately of having no say in their own destinies. Indeed, contrary to American media stereotypes, ordinary Egyptians were carrying out what appeared to be as dignified and as civilized a show of solidarity as one could hope to see anywhere in the world. All we could do was watch from the comfort of our living rooms.

However, this Twitter-driven revolution is all the more fascinating to watch when thought of in the context of the SFMOMA show Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera. It’s interesting because the show examines how social media (photography & film were the original social media) have evolved along voyeuristic and dystopic paths. We now live in an era where one hand gives the promise of greater intimacy while the other hand takes away a user’s privacy. Today’s technology blurs the ideas of what public and private are. More ominously, it also blurs our sense of what is real. Not so long ago people used to be paranoid about having cameras everywhere, and they still are — but that paranoia was rooted in a one-way camera and a one-way television signal. But now that media devices are ubiquitous and interactive — cell phones, flip cameras, iPads, the web, etc. — anyone can be a reporter and anyone can be a witness. So maybe now we think we can watch the watchers that are watching us? It’s not just the unseen authorities that are watching now, it’s everyone, or at least that’s what they want us to think. So are we better off, or are we not? It’s a question worth asking.

Of course Gil Scott-Heron’s famous spoken-word poem, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” makes the point that revolution is not necessarily literal, but something that is psychological, as well. It’s important not to miss his key point, though: that you “need to get in synch with everyone to understand what’s going on.” It’s quite a conceptual leap for those fixated on their own situation, unaware of what is going on outside their own network. Or for people who are addicted to Fox News or talk radio, or even, dare I say, NPR. But new tools like Twitter and Facebook have brought political dissent into a completely new realm. More so if you happen to live outside of Europe and the United States, where social media are a lifeline.

Yesterday the Independent reported about one protest organizer, a woman named Mona Seif:

When Egypt cut the internet last week, she was one of 20 activists who took their laptops to a private house and started the “Twitter Centre of the Revolution,” getting messages to the outside world, thanks to one of their number being connected to an ISP which Egypt did not initially shut down because it almost exclusively serves financial services. “I use Facebook and I have a blog, but Twitter is my favourite tool for political issues,” she says.

Seif is a post-graduate student in cancer biology at Cairo University, (where) she is one of the leading figures who used blogs and Twitter to help spread the call for the first protest on 25 January. Protest runs in her family: her father is a well-known human rights lawyer, Ahmed Seif el-Islam, who was serving in a Mubarak jail when she was born and is among more than 20 lawyers who have been arrested.

It is sadly ironic that those who understand the power of images the most are not artists, but often politically oppressive forces. Last week the Mubarak government understood it when they instituted a blackout as it pulled the plug on the internet and then hunted down journalists with armed gangs. The last thing they wanted was to have pictures of themselves shooting protesters. Or running them over in cars. Or randomly beating people. Or kidnapping them. But even they could not get away from all the cell phones and cameras in the hands of ordinary people. People who were risking their own lives to record and publish what was happening. While the journalists were in hiding, it’s the people tweeting from balconies and doorways that made this revolution happen.

Where Art Is a Matter of Life and Death

Up in the Yukon they say that you can freeze to death in less than an hour. It’s especially true when temperatures drop to 48 degrees below zero — like they did last week. So if you don’t dress right or your car dies and you get stuck outside, things can get bad really fast. The cold does violence to the skin first, signaling your capillaries to narrow, constricting the blood flow as your body tries to maintain its core temperature. Then you might start to tremble and shiver, uncontrollably, as hypothermia sets in. That shaking is your body’s involuntary reaction as it expands and contracts muscles in a frantic attempt to generate heat. Along with that an increase in blood pressure starts to affect both your heart and brain functions. If exposed to the cold long enough, you’ll begin to suffer cell damage, and if your skin freezes — that’s called frostbite. By then you might have started to hallucinate, which is common in extreme weather. But as your heart races you are burning up carbohydrates by sweating. Of course as the sweat cools more heat is lost. But still, your heart tries to compensate for the rapid changes you are experiencing, but it can’t. The only hope is to find shelter fast because, depending on your age and health, the stress alone can cause it to go into arrhythmia, or it could fibrillate, triggering a heart attack, blood clot, or aneurysm. Of course all the above can lead to sudden death before you’re actually frozen. Oh, and then there is the breath vapor — which can freeze when inhaled or exhaled. At 32 degrees Fahrenheit it takes one hour for a cup of water to freeze, but at 48 degrees below zero death lurks around every corner, under every rock, up every tree, and behind every door. This is the environment in which the Inland Tlingit people make their art.

The Yukon is located between Canada’s British Columbia and Alaska. It is famous for its wondrous mountains, clear lakes, and its perfect view of the Aurora Borealis. Geographically it’s bigger than California, but it’s populated with only 34,000 people. Of that 34,000 about two-thirds live in the capital of Whitehorse. The other 10,000 are scattered around the rest of this unforgiving arctic territory. These small, ancient, and rugged communities are bound together by tradition and family. They are the descendants of nomads who came across the Bering Strait about 11,000 years ago when a land bridge existed there. The clans are known by their association with various animals — the raven, eagle, beaver, frog, etc. Likewise, these animals are featured prominently in their art.

But thousands of years of culture changed when Europeans sailed into the area 200 years ago. Seeking to expand trade routes and looking to exploit the animals for the lucrative fur market, Europeans came and never looked back. As in other places around the continent during the Westward Expansion — and later during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 — they brought disease, religion, and an odd form of economics: Capitalism. But what does that have to do with art, you might ask? Well to begin with, it was one of the first things Europeans tried to suppress. Taking the natural resources wasn’t enough in the age of Imperialism, they also wanted their minds. Natives were forced to convert to Christianity and were subjected to well-documented abuses by a long list of newcomers. These days the Tlingit language is among the most endangered in the world; there are just a few hundred speakers left. So with this in mind, it’s important to understand that the art that they make isn’t the kind taught in art schools. Rather, it is something completely different. It’s inherently linked to their way of life and to their history, a means to convey their beliefs and a way to keep a record of what happened to them.

Indeed in that isolated wilderness it’s no exaggeration to say that making art is a matter of life and death. After all, without your history, what are you? How can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been? How will your children ever know their history, their legends, and their culture? In American kindergartens children are taught to color in pictures of Santa and of Christmas trees, of cartoons and other signifiers of Western culture. But for generations the Tlingit children were taught to be ashamed of their old ways, and only somewhat recently has that started to change.

When approaching the First Nations people, as they are known (referring to all of the indigenous people of Canada, including the Tlingit), the tendency among some whites has been to document, catalog, archive, and then ultimately collect objects and stories from their culture. But doing so has meant the imposition of a rational and very Western concept of transaction. It is alien to people who have historically shared their resources for survival and helped each other out as a way of life. While on the surface it might appear harmless, this anthropological impulse to preserve has resulted in the removal of many things that can never be replaced. Just imagine, for example, if someone came to your house and took all of your dead grandfather’s clothes, all the pictures of him, his car, his cane, his hat, his glasses, his books, his tools … everything … eventually all you’d have left is a memory of the man. But imagine that being done systematically and on a massive scale — across the entire continent. Knowing about the loss of so many pieces of native peoples’ history and symbols of identity, you can start to sense the urgency and necessity of the arts in their communities. Dance. Music. Sculpture. Poetry. Storytelling. Language. It is not just symbolic; it all has meaning.

But vivid descriptions and words are only stand-ins for the real thing and, as such, cannot replace authentic experience. For these reasons I thought it would be prudent to call someone who knows what it’s like to live there. I called up Doug Smarch Jr., an Inland Tlingit artist from Teslin, a small town near Whitehorse. He grew up there and eventually went to the San Francisco Art Institute and then later to UCLA. After traveling around the world he returned to where he was from, and now lives and works there.

Whose Car Is This?

Whose Car is This?

I was walking down Market Street on Saturday just taking in the day with my sometime colleague Bradford Nordeen. He and I have co-authored a groundbreaking article on “The Cinema of Whitney Houston” that is supposed to appear in the October issue of L.A. based art and culture magazine Animal Shelter. So there we were fresh from shopping when we saw this classic car parked on Market Street. (Wait, I forgot to say that if you are interested in bargains, get yourself down to “Agnes B.” on the first block of Grant, they are going out of business and everything, everything is 70 per cent off!) It’s a shame they are going out of business but now their prices are sort of in the Ross Dress for Less category. Well back to the car.

Tweaky Village

This painting has everything in it — maybe it’s Market Street itself– from the Ferry Building through the tweaky village of the Castro!

Tourists from dozens of nations saw a photo op and brought out state of the art Leicas, Panasonics, Nikons to do it justice. (more…)

“Call for Art Historical Knowledge”

On May 22, Artforum and e-flux announced to their Art & Education mailing list the launch of the Art & Education Papers archive,  “a free online platform for the publication and exchange of texts on modern and contemporary art.” They continue, “At a time when the distribution of many forms of knowledge remains confined to small conferences, private seminars, or specialized academic journals, we believe that the broad distribution and exchange of ideas is key to increasing dialogue in all aspects of art production, criticism, and history.” The notice concludes with a call for papers: “either new or already existing (published or unpublished, recent or older) scholarly articles from around the world…Texts may be culled from conference papers, seminar papers, dissertation chapters, etc… All submissions will be considered for publication on the website.”

To say this is an interesting development would be an understatement. Yet the import of this move is still unclear – and indeed the call has been sitting in our inboxes, provoking no definitive action and yet impossible to file away. On the positive side, this archive promises to be one antidote for the cloistered nature of academic publishing, and a healthy rearrangement of existing hierarchies. Existing databases of this kind, such as JSTOR, have clunky interfaces and search engines, and are available only to those at participating institutions. They could use some competition. This archive also proposes to be far more open, and to make available research that is now out of print or difficult to access. Yet it is hard to imagine sending off our work at the behest of a mass email. And there are troublesome questions (familiar enough from the debate on file sharing of music and movies) about what effect such an archive might have on existing publication strategies. (more…)


I have heard tales in the corridors here of total madness/spectacle about to unfold on the Wattis stage. Tonight at 6:30 THIRTY-THREE CONTESTANTS chosen from last week’s solo auditions for Tony Labat’s I WANT YOU project will perform for your vote. The performances are set to be staged in three rounds, hosted by poet/activist emcee Jason Mateo, and with inter-act entertainments by local chanteuse Veronica Klaus. The audience will choose five winners via old-fashioned school-style scantron ballots that will be tallied up live onstage at the close of the eve; as each winner is announced, he or she will be whisked away to be immediately photographed for their poster+slogan, with the audience watching the  backstage proceedings over closed-circuit live feed.

The Finalists: Johnny Bicycle, Jeffrey Brown, Kym Coffey, Nathan Conrad, Donald Daedalus, Veri Severe, Peter Dobey, Kali Eichen, Misty Epperson, Erica Gangsei, Rebecca Goldfarb, Nalani Hernandez-Melo, Dale Hoyt, Tara Jepsen & Beth Lisick, Lauren Kronemyer, Peter Max Lawrence, Suzanne L’Heureux, Sadie Lune, Nicole Mills-Novoa, Lady Monster, Sahar Mozaffar, Henry Neill, Johnny Rogers & Shalo P, Kendra Russo, Brandon Santiago, Shreya Sethi, Stephen Shearer, Andrea Slattery & Elizabeth Deters, Angela Thornton, Alexis Luna, Ian Treasure, Zurab Tsintsabadze, Hazel White