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Collaborating with scientists, exhibit designers, and library staff at the California Academy of Sciences, artist Mark Brest van Kempen created five interpretive signs incorporating pairs of digital photographs that compared views from hundreds of years ago to San Francisco’s contemporary flora, fauna, and terrain.  The images were exhibited at the Academy and installed in the San Francisco neighborhoods they represented. They also were published in the April-June 2002 issue of Bay Nature.

The natural histories of most cities have altered over time, leaving little trace of the complex ecologies that once existed there.  San Francisco is no exception: Streams have been channeled underground, the shoreline altered radically, native species pushed out, and alien species established.

The artist’s research led him to old photographs, journal entries, and maps to learn about the earlier plants, animals, and topography of his chosen locations. Using a high-resolution digital camera and digital special effects, he brought the old landscapes back to life in remarkably realistic portraits.

Prior to this project, Mark Brest van Kempen had created a variety of artworks using landscape as sculptural material, including the Free Speech Monument on the University of California, Berkeley campus.  He was Artist in Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in 2000 and taught at the San Francisco Art Institute and Stanford University.

Located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences was founded in 1853 to explore and explain the natural world.  It is the largest museum in Northern California and one of the largest natural history museums in the United States.

Pictured: Mission Bay, photo by Mark Brest van Kempen