Five years ago, as crews worked day and night to dismantle the massive former Eastern span of the Bay Bridge, artists and designers across California expressed their desire to creatively repurpose pieces of the old bridge steel. The Oakland Museum of California stepped in and partnered with the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee to set up the Bay Bridge Steel Program, assembling a selection committee with expertise in everything from public art to the history of the bridge. Ultimately, fifteen artists, architects, and design professionals were awarded some of the coveted steel under the condition that they use it to make public art in California.
In late September, one of the awardees, San Francisco conceptual artist Tom Loughlin, unveiled the largest and most ambitious public art project to result from the Bay Bridge Steel Program and the first large-scale work to debut in the Bay Area. Made from three massive girders from the former Eastern span and a rare, original signal light from the top of the bridge, Signal is a massive public sculpture on the western edge of Treasure Island that invites the public to consider our place in the natural landscape and the tools we build to traverse it.
Signal is a steel ring, 25 feet across, made from the former span’s huge box-shaped and riveted top chords, the uppermost horizontal girders of the truss sections of the bridge. With a panoramic view of the Bay Area and its bridges, visitors can step into the ring and experience soft pulses of light from the signal lamp and a low, cyclical vibration calibrated to mimic a foghorn.
“The aim of the piece is to call to mind various rhythms that intersect in the San Francisco Bay,” says Loughlin. “The pulsing light and sound of the sculpture point to the navigational aids, bridges, and other structures we’ve put into the bay to assist our travel. I hope they will also evoke the natural rhythm of tides and sunrises and weather changes, and our own biological rhythms.”
“It is the first project to be implemented from the salvaged steel to be placed within sightlines of the Bay Bridge, its place of origin and the sole source of the materials used in his sculpture. Tom’s work has given new life to the 83-year-old section of salvaged steel, enabling the material to continue its humble service and benefit to the public in this new incarnation,” says Jill Manton, Director, Public Art Trust and Special Initiatives, San Francisco Arts Commission.
Seeing this new work, Signal is free and open to the public daily at least through 2022. It is located on the western edge of Treasure Island, only 50 meters from the restaurant Mersea.