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Exclusive look at the art inside the Presidio's abandoned bunkers

Contemporary art collides with military history in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge

Home Land Security, an exhibition of 16 artists from 11 countries installed in the abandoned bunkers, gunnery positions, and Nike nuclear missile administration building at the Presidio, opens to the public on Saturday.

Ahead of the opening, we poked around the pieces (exploring themes like war, national security, surveillance, and international relations as we come up on the 15th anniversary of 9/11) and chatted with some of the artists.

The long vacant cement bunkers and creepy nuclear arsenal headquarters building make for quite a striking a backdrop to the works—even more so when contrasted to the enduring beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge mere yards away.

Encirclement, Michele Pred

San Francisco-born Michele Pred collected thousands of objects confiscated from airline passengers in the weeks just after 9/11—mostly scissors.

Pred tells Curbed SF that it took weeks of pestering TSA bureaucrats for permission to appropriate the materials, "until they ran out of excuses." (And until she signed a liability waiver for handling them. "I’ve been cut more times than I can count" working on the piece, says Pred.) She used a shovel to scoop up the piles of sharp objects and haul them away.

The collection is more colorful than Pred initially imagined—she had expected a gleaming mass of stainless steel instead of a plastic rainbow. The colors certainly pop when viewed against the flat, military gray surfaces of the old army buildings, which Pred calls the perfect venue for the work.

Operation Onymous, Trevor Paglen

A giant-sized version of an FBI "challenge coin," (a token conferred on agents selected for certain high-profile task forces). The image of a tentacled onion probably seems like artist Paglen’s way of satirizing spy agencies, but this was in fact the real iconography FBI agents used to self-identify with their coworkers. The bureau handed out the coin to agents who helped bust the San Francisco-based black market website Silk Road.

Lotus, Shiva Ahmadi

Ahmadi’s nine-minute animation piece includes images like monkeys toying with hand grenades—a pointed tableau in the midst of the Nike missile command building where it’s presently screening. "Finally, an Iranian has access to this top secret American military facility," Ahmadi joked with Curbed SF on Thursday.

Bulengo Studios, Alexia Webster

South African photographer Alexia Webster visits refugee camps around the world, taking portraits of displaced families. "The photos are for them, rather than art pieces that I’m going to sell," Webster told Curbed SF. "That changes the way they pose. You can see it when you’re with them." Seeing these people seemingly standing in the midst of the bleak, prison-like vibe of the Nike building is a bit startling.

Barricade, Liza Lou

Beads plated in 24-karat gold cover Lou’s Barricade. But it "provides only the illusion of a barrier," the artist’s statement points out: The whole thing would topple over if you put any pressure on it.

Some One, Do Ho Suh

South Korea-based Do Ho Suh’s flowing coat of gleaming stainless steel armor is actually thousands of overlapping military dog tags. Some One sits in the Battery Godfrey site, once home to mounted guns with 12-inch barrels, now hosting several pieces about the lives of soldiers and veterans.

Weapon, Yin Xiuzhen

Xiuzhen, a mixed materials artist from Beijing, suspended a variety of spear and bayonet-like constructs from the ceiling of a bunker. This is actually just a collection of everyday household objects, covered in secondhand clothes. Xiuzhen installed Weapon in Battery Boutelle, where the US Army manned anti-minesweeper guns. The guns’ 84-pound cartridges once piled high to the ceiling here.

34,000 Pillows, Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera and Cara Megan Lewis

Some of the pillows in 34,000 Pillows come out of a workshop the two artists set up in the Presidio, and you can even pitch in on the effort if you want. The 34,000 figure represents the number of beds that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency keeps ready at all times for detained immigrants.

There are plenty more works in the exhibition (on display through December), and also an opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty of the Presidio and the foreboding but quirky charm of the old military installations, often overlooked on the west edge of the Golden Gate Recreation Area.