Since early September, at random times, the sounds of brass bells have been gently wafting through the air in Frank Ogawa Plaza. The plaza is hosting a sound installation, an original piece by Oakland-based artist Zarouhie Abdalian titled, "Occasional Music," for two months.
The brass bells are programmed to ring simultaneously at a specified time for several minutes from rooftops of buildings in and around the plaza. Each bell plays a randomized sequence that sounds different each time.
The once-a-day pealing of the bells will be continue through November, said Steven Huss, cultural arts manager for the city of Oakland. The installation was developed in coordination with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the city's Public Art Program.
Abdalian's sound installation is one of four site-specific pieces commissioned in conjunction with SFMOMA while the museum is closed for construction.
Abdalian was one of the four featured artists selected this year by the museum's Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art, also known as SECA. Showcasing up-and-coming Bay Area artists is the primary purpose of SECA and Abdalian's piece is the only one to be located in the East Bay. The selection process included a review of more than 250 applications from nominated artists. Fifteen finalists were asked to then submit a proposal for a solo commission at a potential location.
"This artist is interested in the way that bells regulate the activities of social spaces, such as announcing the passing of hours, shift changes, festivals, calls to service, and even emergencies," Huss said. "She works with the specifics of a site to create subtle interventions into everyday perception."
Her choice, Frank Ogawa Plaza, is one of the oldest functioning public spaces in the East Bay. Acquired by the city in 1863 at a time when the boundaries of Oakland stopped at 14th Street, the triangle-shaped parcel served as a public garden to an earlier City Hall building.
The plaza has undergone many changes in 150 years. The current layout dates from 1998 when the plaza was officially rededicated to the memory of the late Frank H. Ogawa (1917-1994), a councilmember for 28 years who also served as vice mayor. That year, 1998, was also when the plaza was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A daily schedule of the bell chimes is available at www.sfmoma.org/seca, and on Nov. 15 the artist will lead a panel discussion on art practices in Oakland.
To learn more about the history of Frank Ogawa Plaza, come on a free downtown walking tour. The next one is on Wednesday. Additional details are available at www.oaklandnet.com/walkingtours.