A crisp coastal wind pitched up the Golden Gate Strait, zigged up a bluff along the edge of the Presidio and pushed past the austere concrete bunkers and former military buildings hugging the cliff top — fortifications from wars past.
Except now, these abandoned military buildings where tourists gather to view the Golden Gate Bridge, were gathering their own attention — cast now in the unlikely role as art galleries.
Five of the bunkers and former military buildings which have been long closed to the public are part of a temporary art exhibition with the somewhat fitting title, “Home Land Security.” The show occupies five buildings with 25 pieces of art created by 18 different international artists.
The show which runs Wednesdays through Sundays, through December 18th, was organized by a collection of groups including the Fore-Site Foundation, the National Park Service, The Golden Gate Conservancy and the Presidio Trust.
“None of these buildings have been opened to the public,” said Fore-Site Foundation founder and project curator Cheryl Haines, “since they closed and the Presidio went from a military base to a National Park.”
A forlorn building with chipping cream-colored paint and barred windows that once served as the administrative offices for base’s Nike Missile program, was abuzz with visitors meandering from room to room browsing art installations. The exhibit was built around the theme of Homeland Security — and how life changed in the world following the September 11th attacks.
In an installation titled “Concourse,” artist Tirtzah Bassel created colorful scenes of travelers getting frisked in TSA airport lines, using duct tape as the medium.
In an adjacent room, Michele Pred arranged a large ring on the floor which on closer inspection, revealed a phalanx of items confiscated by TSA at San Francisco International Airport. The art supplies included lighters, scissors, matches and a yellow plastic squirt gun.
“This is a group of artists who are very articulate,” Haines said. “Their voices are resonant and together they’re trying to bring attention to some very basic concerns we all have.”
In a row of bunkers cut into the bluffs where large anti-naval guns were once mounted, dark cavernous rooms created a fittingly eery industrial backdrop for a large suit of armor by Korean artist Do Ho Su, which was formed by thousands of blank dog tags. Video installations ran in other rooms — next to a vestibule filled with colorful cloth-like missiles created by Chinese artist Yin Xiuzhen.
“We’re presenting contemporary art in unique locations,” Haines said, her voice echoing across a concrete room, “not in a museum, not in a gallery.”
Iranian artist Shiva Ahmadi created a video installation depicting morphing cartoon-like images she said reflects political and social issues taking place in the world. The now-U.S. resident said the political messages of her art have left her with feet in two sides of global conflict.
“As an Iranian I cannot show my work in Iran right now because of its political content,” Ahmadi said. “In this country because I am from Middle East I’m always subject to being profiled.”
Ahmadi glanced through the room in the Nike Missile building where visitors watched her video, the glowing colors from the screen splashing across their faces.
“This exhibition was a great opportunity for me to get into one of the very highly secretive governmental buildings that as an Iranian I can never get into,” Ahmadi said with a grin.
The last gallery in the show was the small white Fort Scott Chapel, which looked like a country church you might find in rural Pennsylvania. Inside, large ornate metal sculptures dangled from the ceiling — looking like a cross between a missile and a medieval lamp. The installation titled Five Works from the Projectile Series was by Iranian artist Shahpour Pouyan.
Though the exhibition opened before the November election, it’s easy to imagine visitors extrapolating messages from the country’s current political climate from the art.
“Some of the questions I think you’ll encounter here is what is home, what do we feel is security?” said Haines pausing . “This project poses questions but does not provide answers.”