(To donate to the Save Defenestration fund, go here. S’ cool, we’ll wait for you to come back.)
Perched on the corner of Sixth and Howard Street and San Francisco, a ruined building provides a magical moment for anyone who thinks to look up. Queen Anne tables gallop off the roof, sideshow murals decorate the ground floor, table lamps light the window ledges, and a sofa makes its bid for freedom. Built by world-renown artist Brian Goggin plus a hoard of volunteers thirteen years ago, Defenestration, this famous example of dedicated whimsy, was only meant to last a year.
Housed in the defunct and decaying Hugo Hotel, Defenestration is to undergo some massive renovation to keep pace with the gentrifying neighborhood. Brian Goggin, artist and the piece’s originator, explains:
The building is owned by the city, but they wanted to tear it down in January. My friend Jeremy Sugarman, brother Patrick Goggin and I negotiated with the Redevelopment agency and the local neighborhood council to keep it up. The Redevelopment Agency agreed provided I make the piece safe and restore it or remove it by the end of April. We have made it safe by removing all the pieces that needed serious structural repair. It is looking sparse and wounded. It needs to have many pieces completely rebuilt. To reach the work to remove and replace it we need equipment – boom lifts and cranes. This takes time, labor and money. But we can raise the money and the resources if it is important to enough of us.
Defenestration began its official existence with every music maker and dreamer of dreams in the greater Bay Area and beyond come out to celebrate this emblem of joy and teamwork. The party was so colossal and so quintessentially San Francisco that people still talk about it.
Tour buses stop for it, outlets all over the world write about it, it was made by a community, and now it needs the community’s help once more.
We figure that a world famous, huge-scale art piece that is the centerpiece of a recovering neighborhood, built largely by volunteers and roundly supported by a city that really does know how, would certainly be important enough, indeed.
John Law, Suicide Club member, Cacophony Society architect, and co-founder of Burning Man, has this to say about Defenestration:
“Defenestration is the best. Brian Goggin turned a rambling, spacious, partially wrecked four story residential hotel building into ART. Not only ART, but a f**king tourist attraction, to boot. You can almost separate humanity into the proverbial two kinds of people: those who “get” the piece, and those who don’t. Those who “get it” are basically everyone. What I’m trying to say is that Brian did the nearly impossible: he made FINE ART that ALL people could appreciate.
On top of creating a brilliant piece of sculpture, he ALSO buffaloed pretty much everyone in town at the time into helping him throw the greatest street party that I remember in over thirty years in this town as the opener for the piece. The gypsies, punks, goths, machine art kids, ravers, hippies, “serious art types”, art fags, pranksters, rocket scientists, burners (this was before the pathetic appellation “burner” was in popular use), city politicos, business owners and pretty much everyone else came out for the party. Many of them helped put it on. The organizing crew got permits to hang the pieces on the building, close Howard St. for the show and have aerial and fire performances right there in broad daylight in South of Market. Try to do that now.
In 13 years Defenestration has become synonymous with San Francisco to many. Along with the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, The Cliff House, ChinaTown and Lombard Street, Defenestration is on the tour bus routes and is on display daily as a gift to both locals and visitors to our grand and kooky town.
If there is any plan to convince the Powers That Be to retain this wonderful, goofy, grand sculpture as part of whatever development eventually engulfs the corner of 6th & Howard, we should support it whole heartedly. The facades of several historically important buildings in town have been preserved and incorporated into the new structures that were built within their shells. They could perform a similar engineering feet with Defenestration.
In the mean time, let’s do what we can to support Brian in restoring the piece as the final fate of the building is debated by the City and developers.”
Defenestration is more than just rebellious furniture tacked to a wall. It’s a true icon, a symbol of what we do in this city and what a group of genuinely dedicated and excited individuals can be capable of, given the right impetus. It’s a living, breathing piece of history, something tourist and native alike can marvel at. Stories of its construction abound, from the trapeze artists suspended out the window on opening day to tales of fondly remembered mishap. Eva Galperin, now of the EFF, remembers being a high school student working in the interior:
“My most poignant memory of working on Defenestration – I was working on helping to clear out the building, to get all the plaster dust out. We were having lunch on the roof, and I had forgotten something downstairs. So I come barreling down the stairs, covered in plaster dust, only to realize that there is a 2×4 across the stairs, and I don’t duck *quite* fast enough. Giant scar across my back. I came home, covered in plaster dust still, and across my back the plaster dust was pink. I did, in fact, suffer for my art.”
This author remembers Miss Galperin in class sometime after the incident, bragging about the injury and declaring it the coolest one she had gotten to that point and we should all really come down and see this amazing thing they were building.
Michael Michael, also known as Danger Ranger, co-founder of BurningMan, Cacophonist and raconteur, comments:
Defenestration was one of the first large-scale art projects in San Francisco produced by voluntary collaboration. Many challenges had to be overcome to bring this brilliant idea into reality. Assembling a variety of old furniture and then modifying it into whimsical shapes, clearing massive amounts of debris from an old and long-abandoned building, installing supporting frameworks and lighting, all required heroic effort.
During the several months of installation, there was a convergence of colorful characters from all over the country and the labyrinthian interior of the building itself became a temporary colony of artists working all hours. Donated food and supplies appeared each day to fuel the hard-working crew. This historic project attracted a bunch of unique and creative individuals into what became a community effort that has had lasting effect.
And the incredible block party and circus held at the completion of the project is a legendary event remembered by many.”
Chicken John, showman and erstwhile mayoral candidate, apparently became intoxicated upon hearing the news of Defenestration’s potential demise. When asked for a comment, this is what we could make out:
“Defenestration is the most valuable asset. . .beacon of tolerance and whimsy. . .keeping the idea of San Francisco as a city of Art and Innovation. . . .overflowing with possibility. . . championing unconventional thinking. . .embracing function as form. . .perverted f*ing furniture getting away with murder. . . they move you know. . .a genuine cornerstone of truth in a world gone mad. . .if it was a girl I’d marry it. . . can’t let civic treasure slip away. . . demand you commit to its long life. . .city of arts and innovation. . .the dog loved it. . . doom and cold. . . emptiness. . .pigeons. . .”
We over here at LaughingSquid did the math, and figured that if 10% of the population of San Francisco proper gave $1.00, Defenestration would rise again to amaze and delight. Skip one hour of metered parking in SF! Buy one coffee one size down! Go through your couch to repair the one in the window! All donation are tax deductible through the very generous machinations of the Black Rock Art Foundation, with a handy dandy Defenestration Donation Page available for all your donating needs.
In Addition, 1:AM gallery is hosting a fundraiser and admiration party to help raise funds:
Please join us on Friday, March 5th, from 6-10 pm for a very special opening/fundraising event at the 1:AM Gallery, on the corner of 6th and Howard Streets. The gallery will host a month-long exhibit celebrating Defenestration, including examples of restoration work in progress and artwork for sale. All proceeds from the event and exhibit go directly to the restoration project. Visit www.1AMSF.com for more information and updates. The exhibit will run through April 2, 2010.
If you weren’t around the first time, donate – time, money, and energy. Contribute some senseless beauty to an uptight world. Forward the donation site around. Be active, if this is something you think is wonderful, because when we win and the piece is beautiful again, you can tell people to look up when you pass, and you will be able to say “That there, that art piece over there, I did that, we did that, all of us.”
photos by Florencia Alemán