SF State Magazine { University Communications }

Image: Photos of SF State alumna Bonnie Rose Hough, professor Frank Bayliss and other images from Fall/Winter 2009 issue of SF State Magazine

About the Cover Photo

"Language of the Birds" by Brian Goggin (B.A. '90) and Dorra Keehn. Photo courtesy Gino De Grandis"Language of the Birds" by Brian Goggin (B.A. '90) and Dorra Keehn. Photo courtesy Gino De Grandis


It's a bird, no, it's a book

Located at the intersection of Broadway and Columbus avenues, Language of the Birds by artists Brian Goggin (B.A., '90) and Dorka Keehn, was selected as one of the best public artworks in the United States at the 2009 Americans for the Arts convention.

The flock of 23 sculpted, illuminated books "flying" over a North Beach street corner "has brought excitement and poetry to a dense urban streetscape, transforming one of the city's busiest intersections into a destination," says Luis R. Cancel, director of cultural affairs for the San Francisco Arts Commission. His organization commissioned the permanent site-specific sculpture for a plaza linking Chinatown and North Beach. Unveiled last November, it is the first solar power-offset public artwork in California.

Each book, fabricated in frosted white translucent polycarbonate, is suspended from a geometric web of stainless steel aircraft cables. Solar panels on the roof of nearby City Lights Bookstore power the book's LED lights that scatter patterns on the street below. Passing under the flock, pedestrians will also notice words and phrases in the plaza floor that appear to have fallen from the pages. The words, inspired by the neighborhood's rich literary history, include contributions from more than 90 authors including the Beats, SF Renaissance poets and Chinese writers.

"The image of flying books emerged from the idea of culture and nature connecting in unexpected ways," Goggin says. Influenced by the literary genre "magical realism," his sculptures bring new life, movement and meaning to familiar objects (as in past works such as Herd Morality where a herd of running tables clamor for escape and Desire for the Other, a centipede-like couch that consumes surrounding living room furniture.)

Historically "the language of the birds" is referred to in mythology, medieval literature and occult texts as a mystical, ideal or divine language, or a mythical or magical language used by birds to communicate with the initiated. In Kabala, Renaissance magic and alchemy, the language of the birds was considered a secret key to perfect knowledge.



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