John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Its chameleon surface is reportedly similar to currency's anticounterfeiting paint.
Stroll by Oakland's newest public art twice, and you might feel like you've seen two different things. That's because the swirling, landscape-looking sculpture at the 19th Street BART is coated with "flip-flop paint," a substance that plays chameleon to suit the reigning weather.
At one moment "Shifting Topographies" might appear to be jade, at another ocean blue. The face it presents to the world depends on the angle of the sun and atmospheric conditions like fog and rain. "It really does change significantly depending on time of day and the season," says Dan Corson, the Seattle artist who made it. (A similar kind of anti-counterfeiting paint "is actually on U.S. currency and other international currency, I was told.")
Like much of Corson's work—for instance, these carnivorous-plant street lights—"Topographies" draws heavily from the natural world. Its jutting plateaus are a loose interpretation of Oakland's green-and-golden hills, and the glass wall at its base really is a "You Are Here"-style map of the city:
But the culture of Oakland also wormed its way into "Topographies." According to a description of the project: "Other inspirations came from the flashy paint jobs in the car culture of this community and the signature Blue BART station for which the art marked the entrance." (For folks who didn't know Oakland had a car culture, please check into the local phenomenon of sideshowing.)
Corson's artwork doesn't go dead when the sun goes down. Light projections dance off its surface, drawing psychedelic references to squirmy topographic lines and the waves of the Bay. Have a look: