Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Back to the Future with Raygun Gothic Rocketship

Next door to the Amtrak train station on the San Francisco waterfront, a 40-foot retro rocket sculpture has been created by Five Ton Crane, a group of Burning Man associated artists for a year-long installation, and it's stunningly playful.

The artists Sean Orlando, Nathaniel Taylor, and David Shulman (above), along with a crew of over 60 volunteers, originally created the sculpture for the 2009 Burning Man festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.

In the desert, you could walk inside the rocket as if you really were going to take off, but insurance and permit considerations made that impossible along the San Francisco waterfront.

Accordingly, a kiosk was built by Alan Rorie with graphic design by Jody Medich, displaying the daily intergalactic schedule for the Raygun Gothic Rocketship.

The retro rocket's placement next to the Amtrak station is an unintended bit of irony since rail travel is experiencing a back to the future moment right now, although the United States is falling behind the rest of the world in that arena with each passing day.

Maybe that's why the kiosk designers insisted that "Earth" was a "Local" stop.

I was taking a train on Friday morning, just before the rocketship's official installation, and talked to a European tourist family who were going to Los Angeles via an Amtrak train to Bakersfield followed by a bus ride to downtown LA. When they asked me what they were getting into, I replied, "It's very, very old-fashioned and slow. Pretend you're in a Hollywood movie from the 1940s and you should have a good time."

The European patriarch talked about how his family was on their way home from a trip to Shanghai. "Ten years ago China had no modern rail infrastructure. Now they have high-speed trains going at 270MPH everywhere. It's amazing."

Meanwhile, in California, it is taking forever to start building a modern railway system while the state chokes on its own exhaust. I wish the Raygun Gothic Rocketship engineers and artists were in charge.


Axel Feldheim said...

What a pity we can't climb inside! I'll be looking for this next time I am at the Embarcadero. I had no idea there was even such a thing as an Amtrak Station in San Francisco, but the irony is perfect!

Civic Center said...

Dear Axel: Maybe there will be special parties where there will be guided tours to the interior in the next year. Who knows? And the Amtrak station is basically a small station that sells tickets for bus rides to Emeryville and Oakland where trains and connecting buses will take you almost anywhere. I'll be writing about it when I take a trip to Palm Springs via a train to Bakersfield soon. For some reason, Amtrak's been getting a lot better lately.

Anonymous said...

Has Amtrak food improved? Some of the trains in the 40's and 50's were actually noted for the quality of the food--I was on a Union Pacific train that made an unscheduled stop somewhere in the Rockies and took aboard fresh-caught trout which were then served in the dining car. As late as the mid-50's, railroads advertised comfort (the Chesapeake & Ohio's symbol was a cat snoozing comfortably on a pillow) and amenities. Lord, so did the airlines... that's how old I am.

Civic Center said...

Dear rootlesscosmo: No, Amtrak food has not improved, sadly.

Your driver said...

Thanks for this post. I really want to see this thing. I have tons of examples of "raygun gothic" art in my house and tattooed on my body. I even play a custom built uke with inlaid rocket ship artwork. I don't believe I've ever heard the phrase raygun gothic. I like it much better than the retro futurist tag that I usually see. I guess I'll be coming to the city next week.

Your driver said...

PS, as late as the early '70's Amtrak still had real dining car service. I used to take the train from Detroit to New York pretty regularly and they had a cook car and a sit down dining room with table cloths and flowers on the tables. To me, America's race towards third world standards is nowhere more evident than in our collapsing transportation system.

Civic Center said...

Dear Jon: I was whisked away on a train ride in the mid-1970s from Oakland to Portland and back by a rich romance, and the dining car was still fabulous. A couple of years later it was gone.

Black Rock Arts Foundation said...

Mike. Thanks for the great post. We are having a great time with it.

If you would like to read more about the rocketship:


Jon: If you email me with your Snail Mail address I might have a little surprise for you.


Nancy Ewart said...

Oh wow! Great images - now all it needs is Flash Gordon and Princess Aurora. "You" can have Dale Gordon - too bland and wussy for me. Of course, if somebody were to throw in Timothy Dalton from the really cheesy 80's (the one with Max von Sydow) movie, I sure wouldn't say no. The rocket just calls out for some gorgeous men and women in tight fitting uniforms.

Your driver said...

Mike, I got your note at my blog. I got in touch with your friend and received a gorgeous rocket ship sticker this morning. It's on the case I use for my rocket ship uke. I love it when the blog world intersects the physical world. Speaking of which, what does your schedule look like? I'm in The City fairly regularly.

I haven't made it to the Embarcadero yet, but I saw the rocket ship from above when I took the bus to Oakland yesterday. What a cool sight. My summer commute to Oakland has really made me appreciate the Bay Bridge.

Civic Center said...

Dear Jon: I'm around a lot. Just give me a ring. My name is Michael Strickland and I'm in the phone book.

Your driver said...

You gave me your phone number a long time ago. I still have it. Thanks Mike.