SQUARED SF Art Sculpture installed in Hayes Valley

Consider for a moment the concept of a tree. Now, subtract every nature-based feature of that tree (wood, leaves, sap, roots) while maintaining its basic structure. Then replace those natural features with keystones of modern human industrialism; metal, plastic, electricity and software. Essentially, modernize this tree. What you are picturing is SQUAREDSF.

SQUAREDSF is a three-dimensional art sculpture that has just been installed at Patricia’s Green, a park in Hayes Valley that was converted from a freeway on-ramp into a lively communal area full of shops and restaurants. SQUARED is a 50-foot tall black-metal tree with hundreds (768 to be exact) of geometric white cubes for branches and leaves. Within each of these cubes is an array of LED lights that can create hundreds of florescent schemes and illuminate the entire park in brilliant patterns of color. It’s something you have to see in person to truly grasp, and once you do, it’s hard to get the image out of your head.

SQUAREDSF was created by San Francisco artist Charles Gadeken. Gadeken has created many sculptures out of various types of metal. His work can also be found at various music festivals such as Burning Man. He originally designed SQUARED for Coachella. He sees his design as both contemporary and futuristic.

“I think of it as a square tree,” Gadeken says. “It’s kind of a post-nature object. It’s along the lines of post-human in this age of technology. The square tree, the square fruit and all those kinds of things.”

The LED lights inside of SQUARED can either be set to an automatic pattern (when no one is around to control them) or be orchestrated by software on an iPad.

“Essentially, the software has a physical model of the sculpture, kind of like if you had a 3D model of a character in a [video] game,” says Kyle Fleming, who designed the software for SQUARED. “So it knows where all the LEDs are and it gives you a simulation of it. Then a bunch of people, over time, have contributed patterns. From there, there’s an interface where you can choose between patterns and layer effects on top of those patterns and blend different patterns together so that you get a dynamic scene or performance over time.”

SQUAREDSF will now be the centerpiece for Patricia’s Green. It was commissioned by the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association to remain there for the next year, when another public art piece will take its place.

“There’s a long process and a long history of community involvement in how the rotating public art pieces are installed in Patricia’s Green,” says William Bulkley, a representative from the Arts, Culture and Entertainment Committee of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association. “It was actually a couple of local artists and merchants that pushed to have public art in Patricia’s Green over twelve years [ago]. Of course it’s public land, so it has to be approved by the San Francisco Art Commission, and so we worked very closely with the Visual Arts Committee and the public arts coordinators from the Arts Commission. This particular piece came from [The Arts, Culture and Entertainment Committee’s] suggestion. They have a process; they put out a request for proposal for local artists and national artists to see what pieces could be installed in there on a temporary basis for the price that they have for that year.”

One of the members of said Art Commission, Jill Manton, spoke on this at the opening of SQUAREDSF.

“Charlie Gadeken’s work is the latest in a tradition of having temporary public sculptures here,” Manton says. “Thanks to the activism of the neighborhood, we’ve been able to have public sculpture as an asset in Patricia’s Green.”

Public art is not just a tradition of Hayes Valley, but of San Francisco as a whole. Pacsafe.com deemed San Francisco one of the six “best US cities for public art,” and rightly so. When the weather is nice, spending time in a park (such as Patricia’s Green) and pondering a piece of art can be a great way to spend an afternoon.

Before installing it at Patricia’s Green and before premiering it at Coachella, Gadeken built SQUARED at his workshop, called “The Box Shop.” The Box Shop is Gadeken’s metalwork shop that he uses to construct most of his sculptures. It is located in the Bay View area of San Francisco, in India Basin. The Box Shop is a warehouse full of metal, sculptures, models, tools and machines used to create art for festivals and public areas. Gadeken allows other artists in the Burning Man community to use The Box Shop to create their own art as well.

“Charlie has been a friend and supporter of countless artists and a staggering number of art projects destined for Burning Man and internationally over his twenty-five years of professional art-making,” says Steven Raspa, the ambassador to the media for Burning Man, while speaking at the opening of SQUARED. “He is a true hero in our community, and his work gets better and better with each project as SQUARED is a testament here today.”

SQUARED is truly something to behold. Even in the daytime, when the LEDs aren’t visible, the tree has a sort of gravitational weight to it. Because it is in the exact center of the park and is so enormous, it acts as a sort of sun around which everything and everyone revolves.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have this in the area, says Andrew Seigner, a resident of Hayes Valley who happened to be walking his Corgi (named Pancake) through Patricia’s Green when he stumbled upon the sculpture. “On display for a solid year too. I hope it stays forever!”

At night, SQUARED is mesmerizing. You’ll find yourself in a trance as you stare at its branches, trying to guess which pattern will come next, but to no avail. Not only do the lights themselves change, but the speed at which they change vary as well, making it impossible predict its rhythm. SQUARED can be romantic, frantic, exciting or downright trippy. In the truest sense of the phrase, it is something you have to see to believe.


writer, journalist. SFSU Journalism 2020 Warriors stories for the Martinez Tribune: https://martineztribune.com/tag/mason-bissada/

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