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Jane Wolff celebrates the launch of BAY LEXICON: A Field Guide to San Francisco’s Shoreline

October 6, 2021 @ 6:00 pm


City Lights in conjunction with The Exploratorium and McGill-Queen’s University Press present

Jane Wolff in conversation with Susan Schwartzenberg

Celebrating Jane Wolff’s new book

BAY LEXICON: A Field Guide to San Francisco’s Shoreline

published by McGill-Queen’s University Press

As human populations inhabiting cities have grown dramatically, we have lost the ability to understand and even to see the natural world around us. We lack the vocabulary to describe our surroundings, and this lack of understanding limits our ability as citizens to contribute to political decisions about the landscape of cities, especially at the edges where land meets water.

Bay Lexicon, a field guide to San Francisco’s shoreline, is a case study in establishing a working language for hybrid landscapes. Centered on a walk along the edge of the iconic San Francisco Bay, it documents, deciphers, and classifies the places and phenomena a person encounters – and the forces, histories, and interactions that underlie what is visible. In a unique synthesis of text and drawing, Jane Wolff applies analytical and representational tools based in design and documentary work to findings from the fields of geography, environmental and cultural history, public policy, urban ecology, and landscape studies. As our cities face increasing pressure caused by climate change, we will need to reimagine them in terms that do justice to their complexity. Bay Lexicon’s methods for building landscape literacy are meant for translation, adaptation, and use far beyond San Francisco Bay.

Through activist scholarship that cuts across disciplinary boundaries and levels of expertise, this book examines how the landscape at the water’s edge works, documents its historical evolution, brings its citizens’ values to light, and frames conversations about how and why it might change.

Jane Wolff is an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. Informed by her education in landscape architecture and documentary filmmaking, her activist scholarship articulates terms for the complex landscapes of the Anthropocene. Her work uses writing and drawing to decipher and represent the web of relationships, processes, and stories that shape everyday landscapes. Her current research concerns the metropolitan landscapes of Toronto; previous publications include Delta Primer: A Field Guide to the California Delta, the web resource Gutter to Gulf (co-authors: Elise Shelley and Derek Hoeferlin), and the edited volume Landscape Citizenships (co-editors: Tim Waterman and Ed Wall).

Susan Schwartzenberg is a senior artist at The Exploratorium, where she leads the development of the Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery. She has been a curator, photographer, designer, and artist, and served as director of media for the museum. She has participated in many exhibit development and Web-based projects. Susan was a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and has taught at the San Francisco Art Institute, the California College of Art, and Stanford University. As a photographer and visual artist, she has received numerous awards, and has taken part in residencies and exhibitions worldwide. She is known for her public art, including recent works at Stanford University and San Francisco’s McLaren Park.