John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Artists get a chance to reminisce about leaving the city in a new public installation.
San Francisco might be driving out normal folks with its median rent of $4,535, but with a new public artwork they’re getting a chance to talk back. Gaze up at the windows of downtown’s Civic Center and you’ll see mysterious, flashing lights—Morse-Code messages from people who’ve actually been displaced from the city.
The installation, called Wish You Could Have Seen This, was conceived by local multimedia whiz Ma Li, who sourced the quotes from one of the populations typically among the first to be priced-out—artists. At night, the coded messages disappear and are replaced by images of art created by displaced artists, forming a gone-but-not-forgotten tribute to a fractured community.
The trove of messages will be regularly updated, according to the San Francisco Arts Commission:
While developing the idea for her installation, Ma noted the many artists she knows who have recently moved away from San Francisco. Wish You Could Have Seen This provides a platform for displaced artists to reflect on their circumstances—whether the move came from a new job, a change in their lifestyle, or an untenable rent increase—and a place to share their thoughts in the center of San Francisco. A call for artists will be sent out asking for new messages and images of artwork to be added throughout the run of the exhibition, establishing a virtual network that transcends geographical barriers. “[Wish You Could Have Seen This] is a statement from an art community that contributed to the culture of this city,” Ma states.
The artwork will be visible to anybody on the sidewalk until it comes down in the fall. If you weren’t raised by old-timey telegraph operators, brush up on your Morse Code beforehand to crack its wistful layers of meaning. (Or, if you so choose, in the window near the lights are instructions for downloading a translation app.)