With a handful of exhibits and a $50,000 grant from the San Francisco Foundation, the Exploratorium’s founder, Dr. Frank Oppenheimer, opened the doors of the museum in 1969 without any fanfare. In the forty years since, the museum has grown enormously, adding groundbreaking educational programs plus playful, thought-provoking exhibitions (on site and online), artworks, Webcasts, events, publications, and much more.

Since its inception in 1974, the Exploratorium’s Artist-in-Residence Program has grown to include hundreds of artists and performers. Each year they invite two artists— one emerging and a second in mid- career—to develop new projects and proposals. The program engages individuals and artist groups who are drawn to collaboration, interested in interdisciplinary dialogue, and open to developing new working methods. Projects have taken countless forms, such as multimedia performances, theatrical productions, animated filmmaking, immersive installations, walking tours, teacher workshops, and online projects. The program enables artists to embed within the unique culture of the institution and to access the dynamic and diverse staff. It also provides artists with opportunities to work with a broad public. Although the program allows room for variance, residencies typically unfold over two years and include both an exploratory and project- development phase.

Fujiko Nakaya

Fog Bridge #72494, 2013 (April 17-October 6, 2013)

For the first Over the Water project, the Exploratorium worked with architecture and design curator Henry Urbach, director of the Philip Johnson Glass House, to commission a fog installation by Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya. Fujiko Nakaya’s work stretches across the pedestrian bridge that spans the water between Piers 15 and 17. Water pumped at high pressure through more than 800 nozzles lining the bridge creates an immersive environment that shrouds the viewer in mist and puts their own sensorium and sense of surroundings at the center of their experience.

Nakaya’s lifelong artistic investigation engages the element of water and instills a sense of wonder in everyday weather phenomena. Working as part of the legendary group Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), she enshrouded the Pepsi Pavilion at the Osaka ‘70 Expo in vaporous fog, becoming the first artist to create a sculptural fog environment. Since that first project, Nakaya has created fog gardens, falls, and geysers all over the world. Her permanent fog landscapes can be experienced in Ishikawa, Japan, Canberra, Australia, and Paris, France. She created a fog sculpture for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, consulted with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro on the Blur Building for the Swiss Expo in 2002, and is currently developing seven different projects in five countries.

Chris Bell

Sun Swarm, 2013

An elevated topography of silvered squares inserted between the water and the sky, Sun Swarm is an architectural intervention that collects and disperses bits of sunlight across the deck of Pier 17.

Eric Fischer

Digital Footprints and Who Lives Where, 2013

Eric Fischer’s first mapping work, Digital Footprints, for the Observatory’s bay model, Visualizing the Bay, focuses on the activity patterns in cities reflected in social media and how those patterns are shaped by transportation, land use, and urban design. The animation shows the daily cycle of three of these aspects in different parts of San Francisco— the movement of Muni buses and trains, photos posted to Flickr, and tweets posted to Twitter. His second work, Who Lives Where, allows museum visitors to explore the varying residential patterns recorded by the U.S. Census for people of different ages and ethnicities. Eric Fischer has exhibited his work at the Museum of Modern Art and published extensively.

Benjamin Levy

(of LEVYdance Company) Comfort Zone, 2013 (October 4, 2013-January 5, 2014) Benjamin Levy, a San Francisco- based dancer and choreographer, began working as an Exploratorium artist-in-residence in 2011 to develop a participatory work for the West Gallery’s Black Box. An immersive installation exploring choreography, group dynamics, collaboration, and social boundaries, the project is Levy’s first work in a museum setting.

Levy is recognized for cutting-edge interdisciplinary works that explore the nuance and drama of human intimacy. Levy founded LEVYdance in 2002, and the troupe quickly became known for its innovative works and collaborations.

Doug Hollis

Aeolian Harp, historic work redesigned for site, 2013

Doug Hollis’s Aeolian Harp straddles a wind tunnel created by Piers 15 and 17 on the Exploratorium’s new site. The harp responds to the delicate zephyrs and howling gusts blowing in from San Francisco Bay —an acoustic reflection of the forces acting on the edge of the city and the water. This wind-activated sonic work plays the dynamics of the site. The sounds produced by the wind blowing across the choir of strings are transmitted mechano-acoustically to speakers. Working as an artist-in-residence alongside the museum’s founder—the noted physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer—Hollis developed a fascination with sound sculpture and landscape that has persisted throughout his accomplished career.

Meara O’Reilly

Chladni Singing, 2013 Artist-in-Residence

Chladni Singing is an interactive exhibit that enables visitors to draw extraordinary geometric patterns in sand with their voices. It is based on studies by German physicist and musician Ernst Chladni who, at the turn of the 19th century, developed a technique to show modes of vibration on a mechanical surface. Today, Chladni Plates are often electronically driven by tone generators; with the human voice and a transducer driving a metal plate, Meara O’Reilly is able to explore those same resonances with a microphone.

Cris Benton

Saltscapes, 2005-2013

Cris Benton uses aerial kite photography to capture the vibrant colors of the South San Francisco Bay salt evaporation ponds created by halophilic microorganisms that adapt to the various salinities of the ponds.


Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt

The Shaping Grows, 2013; 20Hz, 2011; Black Rain, 2009; and Magnetic Movie, 2007 (April-September 30, 2013)

Created as part of a Smithsonian Artists Research Fellowship, The Shaping Grows, a work by British- based media artists and Semiconductor, is a computer-generated animation of a subterranean cavern brought to life through seismic data. Beautiful mineral crystals chaotically emerge, providing a window into the makeup of the physical world, where simple shapes come together to create intricate and complex formations. The work of Semiconductor has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London.

Pe Lang

Moving Objects, 2013

Captured inside a large, round window, hundreds of black rings travel randomly left and right along more than fifty horizontal strings. Closer examination reveals that the strings are driven at each end by small motors and that the rings that seem to pass through each other are actually bouncing against one another. Pe Lang’s Moving Objects is an example of his interest in creating simple systems that result in wildly complex pattern generation. Moving Objects is a site-specific piece supported in collaboration with SwissNex San Francisco.

Tim Hunkin

Tinkerer’s Clock, 2013

A large-scale kinetic clock built around a giant column in the South Gallery, Tim Hunkin’s work features a colorful cast of mechanical “makers” that are activated by visitors through hand-crank devices. These makers “work” throughout the body of the clock, seeming to tinker with and build the clock’s structure. On the hour, the clock’s giant numbers swing out to complete the clock face, displaying the current time. Then the clock face folds back in and the makers go back to work for another sixty minutes, until it is time to strike the hour again. Hunkin is an English engineer, cartoonist, writer, and artist. He is best known for creating the BBC television series The Secret Life of Machines, in which he explains the workings and history of various household devices.

Special Exhibition

The Changing Face of What Is Normal: Mental Health (April 17, 2013-April 13, 2014)

The exhibition explores how we have defined, categorized, and treated people who fall outside of a professional or societal conception of what constitutes normal mental health and activity. On display are personal effects of patients from a decommissioned mental institution, the controversial Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and a late 19th-century Utica Crib, a restraining device used to confine and calm patients in U.S. mental health institutions.

Arthur Ganson

Machine with Concrete, 1992 (on loan from artist)

Legendary kinetic and mechanical sculptor Arthur Ganson has lent the Exploratorium one of his simplest and most elegant works: Machine with Concrete. A motor is connected to a block of concrete via a simple system of gears. The design of the gearing reductions results in the final gear making one revolution into the concrete every 13.7 billion years. The machine whirs uninterrupted even though the final gear is embedded in concrete and cannot rotate. Arthur Ganson has created many playful and ingenious moving machines, often with existential themes.

Cite this Article

"explOratorium." Issues in Science and Technology 30, no. 1 (Fall 2013).

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