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The New City Lights

A series of public sculptures takes on the gentrification of mid-Market. 

"Who" Fernandez and Grawunder envisioned "bums and business-men" sharing this bench. Neon tubes emanate light from the 10-foot-long steel figure.

"What" The most playful of the pieces utilizes carnival lightbulbs in wielded steel letters. What examines the area's transformation from "a place where taco trucks congregate by day into a place where people do drugs at night," says Fernandez.

"Where" The eight-foot-long mirrored surface symbolizes "where" by reflecting everything around it. The back of the word will be illuminated in green—appropriate for a place that once printed money.

"When" This six-foot-long, two-and-a-half-foot-tall light sculpture conveys time and reflection. Its outline of neon lights is mirrored by an image painted on the building.

"Why" Why—the largest of the words—will be painted on the side of a building and was originally intended to be five stories high.

Mexican-born, San Francisco-based artist Ana Teresa Fernandez likes to ask uncomfortable questions: How do we measure a woman's worth? Why do we build walls between nations? She recently turned her interrogative eye on the fast-developing mid-Market neighborhood.

The notion was sparked last year as she walked by homeless men amid flocks of startup hopefuls and saw Square's offices around the corner from a 20-year-old pub. Struck by the juxtapositions, she wondered, "Who should go and who should stay? What now?"

These musings formed the basis of Fernandez's most recent project, "5W," funded by the nonprofit Intersection for the Arts. Created in collaboration with lighting and furniture designer Johanna Grawunder, the exhibit comprises five illuminated sculptures that will be installed throughout mid-Market over the next year. Each piece asks one of the "five Ws" of journalism—who, what, when, where, why—in a commentary on the neighborhood's rapid gentrification.

The first sculpture, Who, goes up this month in Mint Plaza (Mint St., Near 5th St.). Nearby, on the Mary Street side of the Chronicle building, "5W" chalkboards have already been installed to serve as an interactive sounding board for the public. 

 

Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco.

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