As a kid, Brian Goggin was fascinated by magic tricks: conceiving them, perfecting them, performing them at neighborhood gatherings. As an adult, and now a prominent San Francisco artist, he’s still creating illusions—on a relatively behemoth scale.
Goggin is best known around the Bay Area for two site-specific pieces: Language of the Birds, a 2008 collaboration with artist Dorka Keehn in which a flock of books, illuminated from within, appears suspended in midair over a North Beach street, and 1997’s Defenestration, an apartment’s worth of furniture lunging out the windows of a rundown corner hotel on Howard Street. His latest project with Keehn, …And My Room Still Rocks Like a Boat on the Sea… (Caruso’s Dream), is a collection of thirteen 1-ton glass-and-steel-sculpted pianos attached to the side of a residential building, cantilevered 25 feet above the sidewalk on Ninth Street. It’s easily their boldest work yet.
Unveiled in February, the installation and its title were inspired by a famed opera singer’s surreal experience during San Francisco’s massive 1906 earthquake. “Enrico Caruso had this moment where he was terrified—he didn’t know whether he was awake or he was still dreaming as he was walking from his bed to his window,” Goggin says. “And I imagine his ‘dream’ was manifested at this moment, and it was so strong that it became its own entity.”
Historical anecdotes as well as physical chunks of the city go into Goggin’s installations. In Caruso’s Dream, for example, wooden struts anchoring the pianos to the building were salvaged from the recently demolished TransBay Terminal, while pieces of glass were sourced from across the country. And if you tune into local radio station 90.9 FM after dusk, you’ll hear a series of Caruso’s recordings that sync with the pianos’ internal LED lights (one of them harbors an antenna).
For Goggin, Caruso’s Dream is more than a multimedia magic trick. “The glass pianos remind me of being an artist here, and how fragile that is,” he says. “When you’re an artist in any town, you’re dependent on the culture to support you, to an extent. The wooden struts are the patrons supporting the creative class. Without them, the pianos—the artists—come crashing down.”
But don’t worry, Goggin’s pianos won’t crash down. “We worked with the premier structural engineering company in the world,” he says. “They helped review every connection and every material we used to ensure that it is earthquake-resistant.”