Field and Surge is a research-led landscape intervention at the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Downtown Oakland. The project engages the plaza’s most abundant resource, its 10,000 sq ft manicured grass lawn, as an affective, speculative and experimental site for public gathering. Confronting the Plaza’s heavy modernist urban re-design and place-making schemas, Field and Surge is a call to tenderness, subjectivity, mutualism, and expanded ecology within public life.
In Spring 2020, Supermrin will closely with Pro Arts, the City of Oakland Public Art Program, and other city departments to temporarily pause the routine mowing and fertilizing of the public lawn. The resulting growing, decaying and living grass field will host unexpected encounters amongst people, birds, animals, weeds, grasses, flowers, and bushes, and spawn unique conditions through which natural and constructed systems interact within this dense urban space. Through a series of collective and shared inquiries into these ambiguous ecologies, we will subtly alter the perceptual field of the Plaza to create opportunities for diverse, personal, poetic and shared experiences of this public land.
Below: Excerpt from the ‘Report of the City Hall Plaza Redesign Committee’, 1983. This report provided the brief for the architects of the Plaza Redesign Project in subsequent years. In this seemingly benign example, witness the immediate hierarchies established between architecture and landscape – hierarchies that proceed to develop civic use and public order. This is not a landscape for people, but a landscape for architecture – a ‘formal, understated, neoclassical’ landscape that dresses the ‘front yard’ of a revered and imperial City Hall (that ironically, and for safety reasons always has its front doors locked!). Brief documents such as this one are standard mechanisms through which goals and objectives are laid out in the design of civic spaces. Within these documents, witness how simplification and abstraction are employed as tools of colonization and control. Image is prioritized over experience, homogeneity over diversity, legibility over obscurity, visibility over privacy.
Presently, over 25 cameras surveille the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, but the very panoptic architecture of this space renders these cameras notional and symbolic. The space itself is one of constant and absolute surveillance – inhibiting, categorizing and segregating the ‘desirable’ from the ‘non-desirable’ aspects of public space and public life.
Above: View from the City Hall terrace, overlooking the Plaza. American Eagle detail on the City Hall facade.
Field and Surge is made possible with support from ProArts Gallery and COMMONS, Oakland’s Cultural Funding Program, the Public Art Program, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Department of Economic and Workforce Development for the City of Oakland. Additional support has been provided by Pratt Institute, where the first grass field is being developed. If you would like to participate in this collaborative public project, or for more information, please contact Natalia Mount at gallery@ProArtsGallery.org.
Supermrin is an Indian artist working at the intersections of architecture, art and design. Her practice is an anti-disciplinary exploration of space that seeks to reconsider the ways in which urban landscapes mediate human relationships. Through radical re-conceptions of site and experience, she creates installations and environments that seek to shift perceptions, beliefs and assumptions about the nature of the physical world.