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Treasure Island installation uses 36 tons of Bay Bridge steel

“Signal,” a 25-foot piece under construction, will invite residents to get up close with the remains of the old eastern span

The new piece of gigantic public art under construction on the west side of Treasure Island is, in a certain sense, already and old friend, as longtime island dwellers should already be markedly familiar with the materials—it’s the previous east span of the Bay Bridge.

Conceptual artist Tom Loughlin’s describes his new piece, titled Signal, as “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.”

The materials consist of three 12-ton girders, 36 tons of former bridge steel in all. Loughlin also salvaged an old signal light from the top of the bridge, hence the title.

A rendering of a 25-foot steel ring on Treasure Island, with the Bay Bridge and SF skyline in the background. Courtesy Loughlin

The results, still under construction, will go on display starting September 22, near the great lawn on Avenue A, and stick around until at least 2022, with an extension (a bridge, perhaps?) on the display possible in the future.

After the deconstruction and demolition of the old eastern span began in 2013, the Oakland Museum of California and the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee—part of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission [correction: and Caltrans]—decided to save the parts and dole them out to interested artists for materials.

Loughlin, a graduate of both the San Francisco Art Institute and UC Berkeley, says in his artist’s statement “I’m interested in systems of meaning and the way they operate. I’m curious about the way these systems fail – not just the way they can break down, but the manner in which their proper functioning can limit our ability to see things as they are.”

So it’s only natural that Loughlin would want to experiment not just with the bridge pieces but also the Treasure Island location, which emphasizes views of the bay and the mainland SF skyline.

The initial rendering for Signal don’t look like much—it is indeed a giant steel ring with a signal on top.

But the concept drawing underplays the new piece’s tactile assets. “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,” a press release announcing the construction explains, meaning that a visit to Loughlin’s finalized installation could leave visitors quite shaken in more ways than one.

In the past, Loughlin’s previous audio-obsessed works included Chorus, “six pirate FM radio stations created to transmit the ambient sounds from SOMA locations,” Echo, which recorded the sounds of the gallery itself and played them back, and Sirens, tremendous pieces of steel that vibrated with “natural resonant frequencies.”