PATRICIA JOHANSONEndangered Garden, San Francisco, CA

The following is republished from: "La Ville, le Jardin, la Memoire", exhibition catalogue, © Academie de France a Rome, Villa Medici and Patricia Johanson, 2000

"Endangered Garden", a linear park along San Francisco Bay was commissioned in 1987 by the San Francisco Arts Commission. As co-designer of the thirty million dollar "Sunnydale Facilities", a pump station and holding tank for water and sewage, Patricia Johanson's intent was to present this functional structure as a work of art and a productive landscape. Other goals included increasing food and habitat for wildlife, and providing maximum public access to San Francisco Bay. Tidal sculpture, butterfly meadow, habitat restoration, seating, and overlook are all incorporated into the image of the endangered San Francisco Garter Snake, as is a public access baywalk, thirty feet wide and one-third of a mile long that coincides with the roof of the new transport / storage sewer.

"Ribbon Worm-Tide Pools", a small sculpture within the body of the snake, provides a path down to the marsh and mudflats of San Francisco Bay. It also echoes the monumental earth mounds of the snake's head, and forms a continuous ramp and stairway between baywalk and bay. The tiny worm itself can be found along the shore in tangled masses among mussels and barnacles.

At high tide the worm's lower loops fill with water, creating habitat for vertically zoned inter-tidal communities. Eventually the sculpture will become encrusted with barnacles and marine growth and populated by shrimp, worms, crabs, hydrozoa, sponges, and algae. As it ages, the "Ribbon Worm" will become a living sculpture—simultaneously aesthetic, functional, and nurturing.

The head of the serpent, a sculptural earth mound, rises twenty feet above a meadow of butterfly food-plants. The mound is covered with flowers that provide nectar for adult butterflies and host plants for caterpillars. Except for an occasional manhole cover, both meadow and baywalk provide no clue that there is a functioning sewer below. Most people assume that this is a purely innocent garden.

Paving along the baywalk mimics the red, yellow, and black of the San Francisco Garter Snake. The snake twists and turns to reveal its stripe, "mountain", and scale patterns as well as the greenish-blue underbelly. The designs of the snake are used to create special places, establish the rhythms of the garden, and focus attention on the life of the bay, as in the "Coiled Tail" with Bayview Hill (right) and scale pattern with 3-Com Stadium (left).

Depressions in the pavement, modeled on California Indian petroglyphs, fill with rainwater for birds. Hundreds of prehistoric shell mounds once dotted the shores of San Francisco Bay, and this site was continuously occupied from around 1500 B.C. by Native Americans who fished in the bay, hunted waterfowl in the marshes, and foraged for shellfish along the mudflats. When excavated in 1910, many human burials and artifacts were recovered from a shell mound on this site, which today lies buried under twenty-five feet of "landfill". Our bond with these people is the continuity of the landscape and the life of the bay. The shorebirds and water birds, shellfish and native plants that we see today are descendants of the same communities that attracted prehistoric man to this place. Their survival is our responsibility.

The image is seen in fragments, and exploring the work reveals both minutiae and monumental connections that are not visible in photographs. The twenty-foot high head of the San Francisco Garter Snake frames a sculptural space that creates windbreaks, sunning platforms, and shelter from predators for regional butterflies.

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