san francisco: transit and endangered species

San Francisco artist Todd Gilens has four major works now on display in that city.  To find them, though, you'll need a special bus tracker:


From the Muni Diaries:

Instead of thinking about buses an advertising space, Gilens wondered if buses can be a vehicle for visual impact. “We use buses without thinking, like using a paper towel, but what if we used images to transform the bus, to give an emotive quality to buses?”

Gilens raised money to wrap four buses in photographs of the Brown PelicansCoho SalmonSalt Marsh Harvest Mouse and Mission Blue Butterfly.

They're quite beautiful:

Gilens bus

Images of all four buses are here.  Just click the little forward and back buttons.

Todd lays out the background for his work in a short statement here, and in a longer article in Antennae (PDF here).  Here's his conceptual bridge from transit to endangered species, by way of urban form:

A way to think of settlement patterns would be: how can mutual needs or living space be courteously accommodated?  Just as we do when crowded around other humans (as on a bus for example) being close enough to all fit while everyone gets at least somewhat of the space they need.  In the framework of regional settlement, this means checking to see if the streams, the coyotes, the polliwogs or ferns are not getting trampled, and if they are, maybe shifting over a bit to give them some room.

It was courageous of Todd to even tell me about this project, given what I've written elsewhere about advertising wraps.  I also long to see bus exteriors used for the primary mission of helping people figure out the bus system.  I especially like simple color-coding schemes that distinguish fundamentally different kinds of service, such as the simple Los Angeles paint scheme where red means Rapid and orange means Local.

But as a temporary exhibit, which is what this is, I'm all for it.  These buses operate through surprise. (True beauty is always surprising, which is why it can be hard to appreciate in a museum.)   So even if the bus wraps were permanent, their beauty would diminish as people got used to them.

The four buses will be wrapped through the end of March and a bit into April.

3 Responses to san francisco: transit and endangered species

  1. Felix the Cassowary January 31, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    It’s nice to see that those buses seem to be useful even for people who don’t know their bus route off by heart: unlike most wraps, all the windows are clear! (I’m guessing he’s removing the displays from the back windows of that bus.) I catch buses semi-regularly, so I don’t know all the routes I could ever want to take off-by-heart, and if they have wraps it’s almost impossible to tell where I am; they might as well have no windows at all.

  2. Art Busman January 31, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    As a bus rider, I have two major pet peeves, cushion-less seats (you can stick cushion seats closer to the front to minimize vandalism and cost, vandalism seems to take place most in the back of buses) and bus wraps that obscure your view of the outside world and in some cases offer a wonderfully nauseating visual experience as your eyes try to focus beyond something placed right in front of it, holes and all. Perhaps one reason people find buses undignified is the way you are treated as a bus rider, in an undignified manner, sitting on cushion-less seats like a criminal in the back of a police car and looking out cheddar cheese windows like your view of the world is considered trivial (yes, both figuratively and literally in this case). Imagine the poor, young, and disabled being forced to wear advertising glasses where ads are placed for others to see on the outside while from the point of the view of the wearer, all he sees are tiny holes through which to see where he’s going. Yes, being forced, because we live in a society that makes it impossible for the poor, young, and disabled to get anywhere without automobile transportation.

  3. Alex February 1, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    Transit Australia recently carried a number of articles and letters highly critical of advertising wraps, especially on Brisbane buses and Adelaide trams. Photos of the latter look particularly bad, with everything covered (often in dark colours) except the doors and driver’s windows.
    On the other hand, I agree that on an occasional, time-limited one-off basis, buses and trams can make wonderful mobile art forms. Perhaps the best example of this in Australia was the Melbourne Z-class tram which was heavily decorated by bus designers from Karachi to emulate the buses in that city as part of the cultural festival for the 2008 Commonwealth Games.
    Have a look at some of the pictures at – have a look at the video as well to see how the tram’s passengers embraced the project.