Wednesday, April 1, 2009


a circle drawing; 40th street Cut the

The 40th street Cut project had a year long journey of weaving a section of the Oakland earth and skies together with many lines, points and people between. For me and my learning process , I am closer to home, more resourced and connected to my neighbors and neighborhood as a result. It is spring again and all the lines layed down along the creek and the streets converge and resound in subtle ecologies. This project may be completed but the lines and channels stay open, even when they become filled back in with dirt and plumbing and condominiums.Drawing a circle. The effect of the Cut has really been about drawing as an extention of the body: outward in participatory gestures and inward in integration of observations, ideas and themes. Drawing energy up from the slides and shifts below the ground and like a metaphorical pantograph drawing power down from the catenary lines that display a lattice of latent electric energy. When framed it becomes an imaginative drawing into place.

Bringing the 40th street Cut into the gallery was a challenge of translation. Our collaborations were oblique translations. We worked to take all the conversations and material generated from our research and process and cut into it, strip it down, then lay some figurative tracks and elaborate plans specifically for The Oakland Art Gallery’s unique space. It was a real pleasure and challenge to build a space that engages people and participants with a kinesthetic and perspectival conversation, to activate an immediate attention and awareness. The multi-faceted set-like environment or setting invited active perceivers, agents of curiosity and wonder. This perceptual immediacy is drawn into the space, making a social artwork.

Faces creatively shine out from the Glenn Echo Creek community and address one another, they simultaneously meander and hold perspectives, bound in the lifestream of the neighborhood. Along these currents we can look to each other and recharge our interdependence and spirits.

The train-pantograph was originally designed in Oakland for the Key system and electrically expanded to the rest of the world. Our duel-pantograph-circling-orrery is a fascination device with kinetic sine-wave circuits and converging shadows. The translating pantograph emanations are reflected in the beauty of its copper forms.

A holistic, subtle ecology can not exist without its system circumscribing and drawing from the hidden, imaginative realm. What is unseen is imminent and like the idea of dark matter it is structuring and elaborating subtle ecologies.

By invoking the tradition of the mural and original 18th century panorama painting, (looking from the inside phenomena), the 40th street Cut’s culvert span is a view of the neighborhood as carefully blended core samples of views and fragments with loans of symbols, ideas and icons.

Plum bobs and counterweights expressed the force of gravity and its mysterious terrestrial role, holding us up toward the sun and down to the center of the earth.

Creative participation is an intrinsic counterweight to holding up an ecological image before it can be seen.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Some photos taken by Jeff Meyers during the installation of the exhibit:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

40th street Cut on Kahn's Alley

At the Oakland Art Gallery, the installation is in, the exhibition is up.

It creates an environment that references the neighborhood parameters and historical circumstances by setting up specific kinds of perceptual and/or spatial questions and conundrums in the language of a set-like environment. This is a multi-layered activity of framing social awareness with two coequal layers: the first being the process of translating the data of our research and the experiences of the neighborhood into an art environment of signs and language. The second being the installed environment experienced and interpreted by the observers and participants to be a new unique landscape of wonder and fascination reflecting our unique community.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Copper Flags and Co-Factors

While watching the rain on the gently moving surface of the creek through the lens of my super 8 camera I was intrigued with an acute vertigo. An enigma of my gravity. The expanding concentricities of the raindrop-effects were merging and elaborating with radical speeds and tube torus geometries.

My feet slipped on the concrete and I started. Then my smeared reflection spoke to me and I noticed how attention moves like water, in some primal recognition of birth in currents, as a symbiotic partner making formations, then measuring and writing and drawing ourselves notes. The water eyed. It is the water that does the seeing, the translation of these visions and spreads our experiences like those effervescent voices of sprites resounding across the fluid surface in concatenated gyros. I guess I heard the Echo from the concrete.

On the highway above, the traffic, and on the power-lines the sizzles. Glen Echo is itself a power-line cut through and shaping down these lowland hills providing this area with much ecological diversity and transportation on the creeks’ own scale. The looming tall trees that weave and stand over the houses and apartment buildings are a giveaway for the underground course of the creek. The life of this Glen Echo insinuates itself into all the homes in the neighborhood in hidden and discrete ways.

I wonder about the residents dreams that are directly related to the creek. Are these dreams more tributary paths of the watershed?

Copper flags modeled after the small colored plastic indicators of municipal underground Power Line layers and regional native plant restorationists have been set and photographed to chart the path and circuit of the flow. The watershed is an underground labyrinth, an intrinsic system of movement and flux in the biosphere where deposits of vital elements of the microcosm, mineral, fungus, slimemolds, insects, seeds and pollen, are transformed and dispersed into all the variety of communities nearby.

I consider the flags little signs, mineral co-factors that catalyse my mapping of Glen Echo and the power coursing in the neighborhood. Copper helper molecules that assist in cultural language and its biochemical transformations.

Fortunately, during the residential development Glen Echo was left day-lighted in a few choice spots as it draws down to enter Lake Merrit. The creek is most certainly a large factor for the residential neighborhood development that occurred between 1895 and the 1920s. It has structures by Frederick Reimers, Julia Morgan, A.W. Smith and C.M. MacGregor and still has surviving elements from the 'City Beautiful' movement. These lovely exposed sites along the meander are currently tended to by a dedicated group of restorationists and neighborhood eco-activists, official and volunteer.

The headwaters of Glen Echo Creek are above in the Oakland Hills upstream of Blair Park. This creek is circuited in an awareness of time that is often hidden from our day to day concerns yet was and remains an effecting part of an expanded idea of the transportation system in Oakland.
Creeks like Glen Echo have always been a draw, a destination as well as a navigational marker, indicating some direction of this more abstract flow: the boundaries of property and language for daytrippers, cartographers, developers and architects to respond to. They are a natural cut through the land, clear writing seen from the flash of a birds eye.

The late 19th century’s dream of electricity and transportation created another kind of writing across the sky seen from a landed eye. Power lines and high voltage use, domestically and for trains. The Key System made an impact on the land not only locally but worldwide by exporting the design of an invention called a Pantograph. Modeled and named after an intriguing device of the 17th century to copy and scale diagrams used by Architects, Mapmakers and Typographers based on parallelograms. A translation of a translating device. The Train Pantograph maintains electrical contact with the overhead contact catenary wire and draws power from the wire to the traction unit, for electric locomotives and trams. The diamond shape version was designed by John Q Brown for the Key System at the turn of the 20th century.

With power the Key System carved up the sky and moved people all across Oakland and the Bay. Putting in new lines and tracks meant many new cuts and carvings across the land and by turns, new neighborhoods.

One such important landmark became known as the 40th Street Cut. This Cut was a channel on 40th Street between Broadway and Howe on its way to the Piedmont Street Station. This remains a peculiar site in 2008-2009, where the street is doubled and the hill has not quite been restored but retains an echo of its own former use. I am fascinated by the short-lived trestle that had a mid way reach across the Cut.

And what happened to the Flagman's Shanty?

I continually find all of the doubling and ghosting of power lines, above and below, very compelling as well as intimate, poetic guides through the area. The address of the Cut. This is the attractor and namesake of our investigations throughout our neighborhood.

Groove In

Here we see the excavation of the 'Cut' and a little piece of Oakland around 1900. Not all grades were leveled but this ridge was deemed cut worthy.
(Photo courtesy of the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association at the Western Railroad Museum)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Floating Down

She floats down, hoping to find silence.
Her mind rests in this moment of uncertainty.
She like the darkness, is safe.
Her eyes are closed, but open.
She knows how to look inside. This place requires a different kind of seeing.
Her breath is soft. It is still in this place.

She hears the call and beings pull
Her out of this place, this place is where
She can only go.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


You know what I mean by 'Grave Robbing' don't you? Evidently, this game has gone on around here for years--a local take on 'seeing' I guess--a way to peel away interference. To be fair, it seems, if you do anything long enough and hard enough you'll see ghosts or colors or flagmen or Ohlone or whatever. When I first moved out here I thought it was the fog. Do you get that? Sometimes you have to rub your eyes at the stuff you see in this town on foggy days.

So go down to the where the creek runs under the freeway at night. Now each of you stands at one end of the tunnel. You can call to each other but you won't see a thing. (The pipe makes two turns.) On 'Go,' walk through. Don't speak. There's plenty to hear, lots of echos. After you pass the turn reach out because it's freakish black in there. You'll want to grab hold of each other at the center but keep going. When you come out, climb the slope and run back over the top to the other end. You'll pass each other, highway above. Go through again. That's a real creek, a real cutter. Run the circuit seven times, faster and faster.

I can't make any promises. But both Royce and her friend saw the same train and the same woman with the grave flowers and they both knew about the Ohlone.

I always want to stand in the sun when that gets told but it's foggy again today.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Motion and Orbs of Influence

A section may be a cut

A curve may be a coupling, a bell or a bridge

A transmission may have a trestle may have a station

Monday, November 3, 2008

Address in

The scent of BBQ smoke and chicken filled the autumn evening air. We wandered and chose some boundaries.
Points of interest.

For the light. As the crow flies, if you must know, approximately 3 square miles with stands of trees all along. Grids with some convincing absences.
We are after all the curious character and motion we can find.
Spots of interest.

A dalmation and her owner approach, investigate us and then move on their sunset rounds over the bridge. The grass and vines had recently been cut back. Where the creek is daylighted.there are storied layers more easily exposed, if you dig.
Points of address.

Ripples in the water as it enters and exits the subterranean passages. A stones throw up creek. The apartment buildings and convalescent homes are tall, but the redwoods are the sentinels of the waters’ course. They calibrate another length with their rings. Dive in to another protracted strata of time and story.
Spots of address.

Mushrooms and decay. Take a look in the branches shade. For example the small flags poking among the nasturtiums. Square up. It is not only in the numbers. In the cracks of the uneven sidewalks, in the empty barrels of Chinese honey, and the expressions on the faces of the gardeners as well. Yellow wasps are digesting the houses. Ring a bell, knock on a door. Our faces are all connected in looking odd, even and especially when we cannot see.

We are, after all, the curious character and motion we can find.
The laundrylines too. Try it on. But don’t get stuck…
the earth is expanding down there.

Off The Mark, On the Cut

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Doubling Back

There is a half-mile stretch where the creek and the street car line run roughly parallel and just a stone's throw apart. For certain, these two courses were never fully accessible at any point in time. Even in 1903, when the first "C" trains ran along the avenue, the creek would have been disappearing behind fences, and under roads and buildings.

I can't be the only one who entertains fantasies of geography while walking through our city. An example, what if for every four city blocks there was one lot dedicated to raising chickens? Those familiar with the lifestyle and habits of these birds may have many plenty of reasons why not. Still. And what if trout still populated this creek? This kind of thinking is an indulgence so I'll get it out of my system and deal with some time-travel.

1. To see the stands of giant redwoods of the nearby hills. If not felled in a mere 20-year span in the 1800's, this might be our most sacred local site.

2. To stand (in 1750) on the east shore of what is now our city lake. At that time it was an estuary, open to the bay and mouth to several creeks, including this one.

3. To ride a C-train past the diner, through the Cut, and down 40th Street toward the bay. (A 40th Street rail line is a real possibility in the next 10-15 years)

It would be greatly satisfying to try and throw a stone from here (standing on the former street car rails) to the creek--just to see.

A Net-sinker, used by local tribes to weight fishing nets

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Bridge

She noticed the light was fading
Her thoughts concerning the shape she was interested in capturing made her feel anxious
She wondered how long it would take before the light would completely disappear
Her senses seemed heightened, the sounds of the water slowing passing near her feet made her remember that this random stream was once a surging creek carrying the elements from here to there
She noticed the light had changed, the daylight she was using was gone and what remained was the artificial reflection of a moment she had captured for others to share

Within Address

Within the neighborhood there is an ease of movement, natural, curious and instinctive. Movement: aloft contours and slopes, along streets and steps, adds markers, tracks and signs of our investigations as well as the erosion and wear of the terrain. Inevitably we are taking it away with us, but we want to give it to you dear reader. Discovery is what you make it. THE 40th STREET CUT is making looking listening, and imagining the whole of where we are living.

This cross section is situated, marked out and encircled in an idea of time that is often hidden from our day to day concerns and remains an effecting part of expanded histories of the transportation system in Oakland.

[From the still partially forrested Richmond Street Glenn below West Macarthur our line plots north-west above the watershed and then north-east below the Kaiser Hospital complex up to a gate of the neighborhood, the key pivot of 40th and Broadway that slices along the contour of … Hill then continues sliding up to the Mountainview Cemetery grounds and along slopes to the 51st/Pleasant Valley terminus of the old Key line where, suddenly sloping south, carving through the arterial streets of single floor homes, apartment buildings and convalescent dwellings our line traces the creek path on its way down-stream to and through the Richmond Street Glen Echo where it has its most dramatic exposure with a few redwood stands and then disappears back underground for the final journey on its way to lake Merritt.]

This our address.

Within this description, these lines, is the home-grown cartography from which we will extract our art, the place ideas have grown and into the ideas of where we have placed.

There is a difficulty with language, with missives attempting to reconcile competing forces, and dualisms: an expansive/abstract and interconnected/convergence. A poetic intention. A difficulty of address arises, of noun conjugation, and an invocation of an animism that is seemingly grounded in a solitary conversation.

Agencies of oneself in the flurry of transformation are continually reaching for relational definitions.

Keyhole Cutaway

We’ve been out to look at the former ‘cut.’ This section of hillside was excavated to make way for an on-grade rail-line to pass on 40th Street from Broadway to Howe. Since the ‘cut’ existed for more than fifty years, we are almost certain that a different wedge of fill was used to re-occupy this gap.

Here is a view of the ‘cut’ at 40th Street and Broadway. A articulated bridge unit emerges heading toward the Bay Bridge.

The depth and length of the now filled-in ‘cut’ would certainly have been great enough to accommodate three articulated bridge units at once. It seems unlikely, however, that any trains were buried when the hillside was recovered and paved over. We’ll look into it.

The flagman stationed at this shanty was responsible for controlling the flow of rail traffic through the narrow ‘cut’ in the hillside at 40th Street and Broadway in Oakland.

Photographs collected from